‘A bridge too far’: Coronavirus catchphrase taken from WWII

FILE - In this April 16, 2020, file photo wearing his protective mask made by his wife, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine walks into his daily coronavirus news conference at the Ohio Statehouse in Columbus, Ohio. DeWine, a Republican who has earned praise for aggressive measures to curb the spread of the coronavirus, used the phrase " a bridge to far" while explaining his decision to reverse himself on requiring people to wear masks in public because of negative feedback. The phrase, which is showing up as a coronavirus-era catchphrase, was popularized by the 1974 book “A Bridge Too Far” by Cornelius Ryan. (Doral Chenoweth/The Columbus Dispatch via AP, File)

A British general’s pessimistic prediction about a World War II operation is showing up as a coronavirus-era catchphrase.

The top U.S. infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, urged caution in Senate testimony last week on reopening decisions, including about children and schools, saying “the idea of having treatments available or a vaccine to facilitate the reentry of students into the fall term would be something that would be a bit of a bridge too far.”

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine, a Republican who has earned praise for aggressive measures to curb the spread of the virus, has used the phrase while explaining his decision to reverse himself on requiring people to wear masks in public because of negative feedback.

It was a mandate many people wouldn’t accept, he said on ABC’s “This Week,” calling it “a bridge too far.”

“Who knew?” said Alexander Lovelace, who just earned his doctorate in American military history at Ohio University after defending his dissertation on the role of the media in shaping Allied strategy in World War II, of the new use of the phrase popularized by journalist and author Cornelius Ryan with his 1974 book “A Bridge Too Far.”

“It is something that kind of works it way into popular culture without really thinking about it,” Lovelace said. “I guess it is a little odd comparing wearing a face mask to the Second World War.”

DeWine said he hadn’t read Ryan’s book, but was familiar with it. He said it was a good way to explain his belief that the masks “was one order too many” for many Ohioans.

“Frankly I was kind of groping for an expression,” DeWine told The Associated Press on Friday. “That phrase just popped into my head.”

Lovelace, 31, a native of the Baltimore area, made use of the Cornelius Ryan Collection in the Ohio University library during his doctoral research.

Ryan, who received a honorary doctorate from the school, was a friend of the late Scripps College of Communication Dean John Wilhelm, a fellow war correspondent, and the school houses his collection of files, letters, audio interviews and questionnaires.

Ryan, best known for his D-Day book “The Longest Day,” finished “A Bridge Too Far” months before his death in 1974. It recounts Operation Market Garden, an initiative in September 1944 to punch through the Netherlands, cut off enemy supply lines and finish off German resistance by that Christmas.

The strategy was championed by British Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery, while other Allied generals favored using a broad front approach with the German military on the run.

British Lt. Gen. Frederick Browning had voiced caution.

“I think we might be going a bridge too far,” said Browning, proved correct when the Allies were stopped at Arnhem road bridge as Germans mounted surprisingly strong opposition behind two SS Panzer divisions.

There were thousands of casualties and missing men on both sides, and war in Europe continued into May 1945.

Ryan’s book became a 1977 movie featuring an All-Star cast including Sean Connery, Michael Caine, James Caan and Robert Redford. Browning was played by Dirk Bogarde, a 1950s British leading man whose quote in the movie becomes: “Well, as you know, I’ve always thought that we tried to go a bridge too far.”

The movie got lackluster reviews, with some critics suggesting that its nearly three-hour length was a bridge too far.