We blogged about this sad story last weeks. You may recall that an article in The New Yorker revealed that the late historian Stephen Ambrose had lied about his working relationship with Dwight D. Eisenhower.
Now Garrison Keillor weighs in on this case with his usual blend of criticism and humor. Here is a taste:
When the story came out in The New Yorker last week, I felt ill. I admired the man. I loved “Citizen Soldiers,” about the Battle of the Bulge. He was a deservedly best-selling historian (“D-Day,” “Band of Brothers”), the prolific author of books on Lewis and Clark, George A. Custer, the transcontinental railroad, the Civil War, biographer of Eisenhower and Nixon: Why did the gentleman need to stoop to such a pitiful petty lie? And why did he lift passages from other writers and use them without quotation marks? Did someone make fun of his lack of erudition, growing up in Whitewater, Wisconsin? Did he feel inferior to his doctor dad? A longtime smoker (who died of lung cancer in 2002), maybe Mr. Ambrose was given to tempting fate and playing with fire.
Plagiarism is suicide. It stems from envy, I suppose, or in Ambrose’s case, the rush to produce books in rapid succession, but no matter, it’s a stain that peroxide won’t lift out. All your hard work over a lifetime, blighted by the word “plagiarism” every time somebody writes about you. It’s in the third or fourth graph of your obituary, a splotch on your escutcheon.
Here, dear reader, I must disclose that I have repeatedly lied about my closeness to General Eisenhower and have claimed more than once to have been his aide aboard the cruiser Memphis where he observed the D-Day landing from the porthole of his cabin where he was ensconced with Marlene Dietrich, sipping champagne, as I sat outside the door strumming “Lili Marlene” on a HarmonyTone F-4 mandolin.
Years later, an eagle-eyed reader blew the whistle, pointing out that HarmonyTone’s F-4 mandolin was not manufactured until 1947. Also, that I was 2 years old at the time of D-Day. Also, that Marlene Dietrich was in Hawaii at the time, canoodling with John F. Kennedy.
Luckily for me, the exposé came out on the very day that President Nixon resigned, and so it got buried in the back pages, along with the embarrassing fact that my book, “Sailing With the General,” contained large swatches (unattributed) of Tolstoy’s “War and Peace.” Thankfully, these embarrassing disclosures never got in the way of my friendship with President Eisenhower, and he and I golfed many, many rounds together, at Augusta and Burning Man and Plum Creek, with George S. Patton and Walter (Old Iron Pants) Cronkite, the memory of which the smell of plum blossoms brings back with startling clarity.