Thousands of them would not survive this day. I've visited several of the Allied cemeteries in Normandy. The sheer number of memorials is staggering and overwhelming. I've read a lot of history about WWII and D-Day, so I have a reasonably good understanding of what those troops were facing. I am in awe of their quiet courage and determination to win.
To win, and to survive – because WWII was an existential war for America and its allies. That's something I've discovered that many Americans today, especially younger Americans, simply don't realize: that in WWII our very existence as a nation was threatened. Not in some obscure, indirect way – but very directly indeed. If Adolf Hitler had prevailed, America would be a very different place indeed.
There are a few dates each year that I make a point of remembering and thinking about. June 6 is one of them. This year, I got to thinking about conversations I've had over the past year, mainly with some of my colleagues. I was quite amazed, though I probably shouldn't be, at their profound ignorance of WWII in general, and D-Day in particular. In no particular order, here are some of the things I heard:
- A belief that America's involvement in WWII was essentially like our involvement in Vietnam or Korea – we were there to help an ally, not because we were directly threatened.
- A belief that America's casualties (killed and wounded) in WWII were lower than our casualties in Afghanistan.
- A belief that Hitler's extermination of Jews was at best overblown and at worst a complete fabrication of wartime propagandists on the Allied side.
- A belief that Allied aircraft had complete air superiority throughout the war, and routinely (and successfully) bombed both stationary and mobile targets.
I'd be willing to bet that none of people voicing the beliefs I outlined today are remembering D-Day today. I'll remember for them...