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The greatest myth

American myths about the second world war fuel rhetoric over Iraq. Real survivors of the "greatest generation" merit better history

On a windy Saturday in late October 2002, politicians, Hollywood moguls, television personalities and American second world war veterans gathered in front of the National D-Day Museum in New Orleans to pay tribute to historian Stephen Ambrose, who had died of lung cancer a week earlier. Tom Hanks, Steven Spielberg, and NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw all joined the proceedings. Former President George H W Bush was also there and declared that “Stephen Ambrose was one of the greatest historians of his time or any time.” Though Ambrose himself never served in the military, the memorial service befitted that of…

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