Searching for Troop "A"
Newish year, new project
We're coming up to the 80th anniversary of D-Day.
It's never far from mind in this corner of Normandy, 40 minutes' drive from Utah Beach, with countless reminders of the occupation dotting the landscape and unexploded munitions turning locally up with alarming regularity. It's a constant source of vague interest.
But something changed as 2024 began and vague wonderings became a nagging need to know more.
I'd often thought about how there must have been a day in 1940 when Germans came to this house, where I live, to find out who was here and start telling them what they now could and couldn't do.
Then this year I started thinking about how four years later there must have been a day when Americans came here, perhaps checking for Wehrmacht stragglers, detached from their units in the dash to prevent the Allies taking Cherbourg (20 minutes west of here) and thereby sealing Hitler's fate.
I'd previously seen one photograph and one video that were sufficiently local to spark idle thoughts of finding out more about the war that was waged on my doorstep.
One shows a group of GIs seemingly asleep in the back of a truck that rolled into the picture postcard fishing port of Barfleur, 15 minutes up the road, on June 21st 1944. The other is a video of American troops just around the corner from me, enjoying glasses of cider presented by smiling locals (cider is huge around here).
So I started some tentative research and became instantly and obsessively hooked.
Thus is born what I'm calling a 'micro-history' project.
The story of D-Day and the eventual liberation of Europe is well-told. But I'm interested in the minutiae; the stories that are rarely surfaced.
To give you a flavour, this week I've learned that just a few minutes walk from where I’m sitting were two forced labour camps run by the Organisation Todt. Jewish and Russian 'slaves' were worked to death there, building nearby parts of the Atlantic Wall.
Suddenly the gun emplacements and bunkers that I walk among each week, attractively decorated by graffiti artists, have taken on additional significance.
I've glanced through testimony about people seeing camp guards jumping up and on wooden boxes that were filled with corpses, to cram them closed so they could nail the lids on.
It seems that those bodies may still be somewhere around here, casually hidden in the soil that now provides us with our vegetables.
In passing, I've also stumbled on a story of a German U-Boat commander who received the Legion d’Honneur (France’s highest honour), for rescuing civilians off the French coast after a British submarine torpedoed the Italian ship they were on. How Rarely Certain is that ! But it wasn’t around here and I have to stay focused.
Having only ever been abstractly aware that it was the Americans who came here, while the British, Canadians, Indians, New Zealanders, Australians and others pushed out the other way, after landing on June 6th, I've become obsessed with the detail.
One particular detail has become a mission.
It turns out that it was Troop “A” from the 24th Cavalry Reconnaissance Squadron (Mechanized) who turned up in my small town of St Pierre Eglise, on June 21st 1944.
They had moved up the peninsula, protecting the southern flank of the VII Corps. All the way from places like Minnesota to St Pierre Eglise.
This makes me shiver. But less in a romantic way than how the shock of the real affects you.
Nor in a triumphalistic way.
The bloodshed around here was terrible. Reading any 'After Action Report' by American unit commanders, it's clear that the number of Germans killed around this time was eye-watering, in places I know well from walking the sunken lanes that criss-cross this area. The result of well-equipped, highly motivated, fresh troops and materiel meeting an almost spent, hollowed out occupation force ordered to do the impossible by a man accountable to no one.
I'm focused on finding descendants of those men from Troop “A”, who were the liberators of my small town. To hear from them the memories they must have of their kin who came all this way to fight in the beautiful Val de Saire.
It's the very beginning and I'm already awash with information to sift, so watch this space.
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Speaking of nazis ...
Moral panics are easier to ignite than extinguish
There are scholarly terms to describe Substack's 'nazi problem' moment; how it was created by various forms of invalid argument, incoherent reasoning, commercial incentives and such.
Or you can call a spade a spade.
Because it was founded on lying, misleading and dissembling and there will be no cost paid by those who did it.
It's best to find equanimity with that, because nothing can change how this stuff works.
First, someone lied about continuity nazis making a living by writing on Substack (and Substack therefore profiting by taking their cut on nazi content).
This was objectively untrue and eventually objectively proved to be untrue.
But lots of people believed it and nothing would persuade them otherwise. This included famous people, like the novelist Margaret Atwood.
Fact-checking doesn't work. Who knew?
When the lie was exposed, so that nazis making money on Substack was suddenly unavailable as a charge, the proponents of the story casually changed tack.
Substack was promoting nazi content.
Because this wasn't actually happening (meaning they could produce no evidence for the assertion) they just widened the 'nazi' net to include some essayists who aren't nazis.
What Substack turned out to be promoting (by making their content easily discovered, or having them on a podcast) was some people who are just libertarians, small c conservatives or contrarians who refuse to bow to socially justicey leftishist rules of thought.
Because the people spreading all this misinformation are well-connected in legacy media the story then got legs outside of Substack and and has been consistently featured in mainstream news for weeks.
At one point they even lied about a statement from Substack so that they could claim victory.
Every time they announced their latest findings on Substack's fictitious 'nazi problem' there was always a lie at the heart of it. Something that was easily exposed by a good old fashioned fact check.
But fact-checking doesn't work, does it.
All the time they were also saying they would leave Substack and set up shop on other platforms instead.
When it was pointed out that they would still be publishing on platforms that have nazis on them, they never responded.
When it was pointed out that they are all on Twitter - where there really are lots of nazis - and not threatening to leave that place, they never responded.
Then some of them did leave Substack.
This was meant to look like a principled stand, but since Substack allows you to take all your subscriber emails, their payment details and goodwill with you, it's a low-cost stand.
With all the external media attention on their endeavours it's also likely that they significantly juiced their subscription revenues on the way out. Good business.
They're continuing to lie about why they left, using the same lies that legacy media is happy to reproduce. Substack is, after all, a significant competitor.
One of them had 170,000 subscribers, estimated to be netting them over $1m annually, so they've succeeded in hurting Substack financially.
This seems to be the point. To cause financial stress and reputational harm to Substack, while boosting their personal reputations and revenues.
The objective is probably to slow Substack's remarkable growth, which is largely fuelled by readers - and star writers - deserting legacy media to serve an audience that passed the two million mark a year ago.
It cannot fail, as a strategy because they cannot be held to account.
Legacy media won't challenge the narrative because Substack is part of its nemesis and a lot of them still work on some of those titles anyway.
Their supporters won't change their minds because they already had access to the facts and chose to ignore them.
I was going to list a round-up of links at the end here, which demonstrate how thoroughly the Substack 'nazi problem' was ginned up from essentially nothing, with lies, dissembling and incoherent arguments.
But everyone already knows where they stand. No one will change their mind.
We almost never do.
During the writing for this, while walking Youna, I happened on a couple of guys with a metal detector. They had just found this. It’s apparently a French-manufactured Lebel 07/15 round, used in a wide variety of weapons by the militaries of several countries.
I’d love you to sign up for the free parts and I’d love it even more if you upgraded.