Friday, May 30, 2014

It's the 70th anniversary of the Normandy landings.



YAY! My D-Day series is done!

Did I write this for a class, for Wikipedia, for a book? Nope. I wrote it just for myself, and to make all my ignorant, ignorant readers a bit smarter. (HEY! Who threw that tomato at me?)

It'd be fair to ask if I relied heavily on just one source.....say, Wikipedia. The answer would be no. In fact, I found Wikipedia's articles in this regard to be only marginally useful.

Wikipedia's articles on the Normandy invasion are nested. The main article is Operation Overlord. This provides an overview of the deception, preparations, pre-invasion test-raids (like Dieppe and St. Nazaire), the invasion itself, and the post-invasion breakouts. To follow the thread regarding the Normandy invasions, though, you have to go to an article nested within that, Invasion of Normandy. This article provides much of the same discussion, but includes more details on the naval operations (such as Operation Neptune), and the Allied and German order of battle. It's good and all, but highly repetitive. If you want to learn about the invasion proper, you have to read yet another nested article, Normandy Landings. It's not clear to me why the Landings are different from the Invasion, but Wikipedia seems to think so. Again, the order of battle is given (stop! make it stop!). If you want to read about the American airborne assault, British airborne assault, and action on each beach, you have to read nested articles on each of these.

These articles are all poorly cited. Wikipedia's policy is that any fact or opinion which may be challenged should be cited, but that policy is widely and repeatedly violated in these articles. Let's just look at the "Normandy Landings" article as an example. The section on "Operations" quotes the D-Day Museum (hardly an authoritative source). This section has a very long quote, and no other information (making one wonder why it exists at all). Only one fact in the entire "Weather" section is cited, and that fact concerns Rommel going home for his wife's birthday. (It leaves the impression that he was still in Germany on D-Day, which is not true.) The Allied order of battle section is well-cited, but nothing in the German order of battle section is cited. (Nothing in the "German Armored Reserve" section is cited at all!) There are some citations in the "French Resistance" section, but this section is all about the code words used to start sabotage and it contains nothing about the number of Resistance fighters, planning, dropping of supplies, actual sabotage actions taken, effectiveness, etc. The "Naval Activity" section is also largely uncited. Types and numbers of ships involved, when things started, when things ended, how effective things were -- this all goes undiscussed. The "Landings" section is completely uncited -- even quotations lack citations. The article ends with an uncited section on war memorials and museums. There is absolutely no discussion in the article of the effectiveness, fallout, impact, historical assessment, etc., of the Normandy invasions.

There are just 37 citations in the entire article. A tenth of them are to online Web pages which don't cite sources. Twenty percent of the citations are to the "Britannica Guide to D-Day" online article (another encyclopedia, not to primary documents like books, articles, biographies, etc.). Most citations are to minor facts in minor, original source documents (e.g., some foot soldier's war diary).

This is appalling. This article has existed on Wikipedia since June 25, 2003. It has existed in its present form largely since a major upgrade occurred on February 13, 2008. (The order of battle was copied from "Normandy invasion" into the article on April 22, 2008, adding a lot of text but no new information.)

Sadly, nearly all the Wikipedia articles on D-Day topics are just like this. Now, true, the Wikipedia articles are useful for getting an overview of what happened. But I realized that I could not rely on them for any details. Most of them had factual errors which required double-checking. Large amounts of information were useless. (Who cares about the flipping order of battle??? Who cares if D-Day is included in some stupid video game???????) I ended up using my own books at home for most of the details in what I wrote.

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