Bill O’Reilly – America’s best-selling “historian” – ridiculed in Harper’s for writing bad history

Historians in the News
tags: Bill OReilly

Matthew Stevenson is a contributing editor of Harper’s Magazine. His most recent book is "Reading the Rails."

… O’Reilly may be finished as a shock jock, but we are left to contemplate the shameful fact that this disgraced propagandist is the most widely read historian in America.

In case you have yet to tour the Pacific battlefields with O’Reilly and his collaborator Martin Dugard (who must do the heavy lifting on the first drafts), Killing the Rising Sun is a mash note to American infantrymen and to our air and naval squadrons. O’Reilly’s Pacific is chock-full of brave Marines dashing across hostile beaches, steely pilots dropping their payloads on evil Japanese, decisive generals vowing to liberate fallen countries, and honorable politicians making the decision, without fear or favor, to use the atomic bomb….

Not even a third grader would consider the population on Okinawa “a mixture of Japanese and Chinese.” The Ryukyuans on Okinawa were an independent kingdom until being annexed by Japan in the late nineteenth century. Equally mystifying is that any author could write about war’s end on Okinawa and not mention the Shuri Line or Sugar Loaf Hill, which acquired the aura of World War I trenches. Think of a book about the Normandy invasion that fails to mention Omaha Beach. According to E. B. Sledge the Shuri Line was "the worst area I ever saw on a battlefield…. Each time we went up, I felt the sickening dread of fear and revulsion at the ghastly scenes of pain and suffering among comrades that a survivor must witness.”

Again, O’Reilly and Dugard’s literary device for Okinawa is to pull a Congressional Medal of Honor citation from the files—here they chose that of a medic, Private Desmond Doss—and then pad the account with language that sounds lifted from a drugstore action novel. (“Each man approaches the coming battle in his own way…. But there is one belief that every man shares: no matter what happens when they hit the beach, surrendering to the enemy will not be an option.”)

O’Reilly and Dugard are just as careless when writing about the casualties on Okinawa. They state: “Of the half-million Americans who came ashore, one-third have either been killed or wounded.” That would mean around 166,000 casualties—which is not true. According to Tennozan, George Feifer’s excellent history of the island fighting, there were 7,613 American battle deaths on Okinawa, and about 33,000 men were wounded “seriously enough to be out of action more than a week.” Another 30,000 left the lines at some point with battle fatigue, many during the assault against the Shuri Line. In his history of the end of Japanese imperialism, Downfall, Richard B. Frank estimates U.S. casualties on Okinawa, including those of the Navy offshore, at 49,000.

Read entire article at Harper’s Magazine

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