Thursday, June 6, 2013


On the morning of June 6, 1944 – D-Day, 69 years ago today – tens of thousands of Allied troops began the invasion of Europe to attack the Nazi armies of Adolf Hitler.  The iconic photo at right was taking from inside one of the landing craft just after the troops it carried disembarked and dashed toward Omaha Beach.

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.
All of these are just symptoms of that amazing ignorance.  This ignorance makes me very sad, but it's also rather frightening – we have a generation of adults now who aren't even aware of this nation's rich experience.  They certainly aren't going to learn the lessons of our history, not even of our recent history.

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...

1 comment:

  1. I grew up reading about WWI and WWII. I grew up reading Stalingrad and "Thunderbolt" and all quiet on the Western Front. About the heroism and horror of such large scale conflicts. When I think of the bombing of Berlin, or the siege at Stalingrad and the horrific casualties, I'm gratified that technology has gotten to the point we can try and avoid so much collateral damage. I am saddened though that each time there is some collateral damage, it becomes sensationalized as if the news media and the population in general have forgotten that in the past, an entire city would be bombed into rubble to get to a factory. Or a single Island landing would cost 100s of thousands of casualties. We are just fortunate we don't have to do this anymore. Unfortunately it also means that, unlike WWII, the majority of the country doesn't have skin in the game. The size of the military is smaller, the numbers of casualties is smaller and so the number of people effected and the overall effect on the day to day lives of the population in the US is tiny in comparison. As a population, we are not "vested" in our wars.