The Greatest Crusade: D-Day, the Press, and the Making of an American Narrative
Stephen M. Rusiecki
Advisor: Christopher H. Hamner, PhD, Department of History and Art History
Committee Members: Alison Landsberg, Samuel Lebovic
Online Location, Zoom Link Forthcoming
November 20, 2020, 10:00 AM to 01:00 PM
This dissertation describes the process of how and why Americans developed on a single day—6 June 1944—a standing narrative of the World War II operation known as D-Day based upon a common, press-enabled, thematically framed narrative that has endured for more than seven decades. This study focuses on one central question: How did this early narrative of the D-Day landings, hastily though deliberately constructed in real time by America’s radio networks and newspapers, become the story of the war in the years and decades after World War II, dominating the imaginations and consciousness of Americans born long after the Invasion took place? Ultimately, this line of inquiry seeks to explain how America's collective understanding of D-Day—essentially the American D-Day story—was born. In order to answer this query, this project explores in detail the mechanics of precisely how radio broadcasts and newspapers in the 24-hour period surrounding 6 June 1944 gathered and then communicated facts, images, impressions, attitudes, and meaning that formed for all Americans nearly simultaneously a common narrative organized around four thematic frames. These four frames—the significance and scale of the operation, the sacralization of the event, the gifted and talented nature of the Allied senior leaders, and the purity and valor of the average American soldier—would remain fixed in the American consciousness for decades to come as evidenced by the appearance of this very same storyline over the decades, most notably in presidential speeches commemorating D-Day. By addressing the news-making process during D-Day, this study further explores what information was available to the press; how the press assigned meaning to, or perceived, that information; and what information remained unavailable to the press on 6 June 1944 due to censorship or procedural breakdowns caused by the friction of war. In the end, this study is about the process by which the print and broadcast media constructed a very specific storyline of D-Day in the moment, a narrative that elevated D-Day to a unique, and war-defining, status enjoyed by few events in American military history, such as the Battle of Bunker Hill during the Revolutionary War and the Battle of Gettysburg during the Civil War.