Normandy Seventy Five Years On

Anniversaries are strange things. Especially when this is near the point of leaving living memory. Of the world leaders remembering the day, only Queen Elizabeth II is a veteran of that war. Unlike our president, and many leaders she served in uniform. Most vets of that war are in their nineties, and precious few remain. In five years we may have lost all of them. Normandy is about to enter fully the realm of history, where all we know about it is what is written in history books, left in newspapers and newsreels and in the old, fading photos that we all know.

Anniversaries are also a moment where older people are remembered as giants. We tend to forget the issues that were present in the society that fought Germany, Italy, and Japan. Nor do we remember why. The far right nationalism that led to that war is on the upswing. Our own president is a symbol of that rise.

White supremacy is increasingly becoming accepted in the greater society. It was in retreat. We have rising hate crimes and people who honestly believe that the Holocaust never happened. They also think that we fought on the wrong side of World War Two.

The boys and let's be clear about this, it was mostly white boys, stormed the beaches on June 6, 1944. It was, to use the words of Supreme Allied Commander Dwight D Eisenhower, the beginning of the great crusade. By the end of the war, the horrors of the Holocaust were clear to the world. So were the beginnings of the new world order that gave us peace and prosperity for seventy-five years.

The army that went to war was a segregated force. One of the units that did extremely well, (they must have, they even made a movie, which is the value judgment of our society) were the Red Tails. This was an African-American fighter squadron. It was established in spite of the ideology of race, and with the open resistance of the brass in the Air Corp. It was an experiment. By the end of the war, those pilots were requested often by bomber crews. They tended to stay with their charges, instead of pursuing kills.

The Red Ball Express is another little known unit. They were essential for the army. No army can fight without a supply line. Those troops, all black, were able to keep the army in supply. Then there is the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, the most highly decorated unit of the war. The officers were white, but the troops were second-generation Japanese-American who joined up from internment camps. They fought for the country that put them in concentration camps, due to the fact that their parents came from Japan. They were seen as enemies, yet, given a rifle and a uniform. They proved their country that they were just as good as any other American.

We are at the edge of memory, led by a chickenhawk president whose family has not served in uniform for five generations, likely six by the time the grandchildren grow up. This is a man who could not call the white supremacists at Charlottesville to the task. He cannot say that white supremacy is a problem. For that, he is loved in certain quarters.

We also live in a world that is in the midst of a shadow war. We are losing horribly, because like the 1930s we are underestimating the enemy. Since there are no front lines, most Americans remain oblivious to it. Americans love to talk about the greatest generation and how we defeated the fascist while voting for a fascist.

We love to speak of how the boys assaulted the beach upholding the values of democracy and the American way, while not participating in the democratic process. We love to speak of the good war, yet the institutions that gave us the long peace are under attack.

Is our world perfect? No. Like the world those troops came from, we face an existential crisis. This could very well kill all of us. A warming world is a threat to life on earth, yet we act as if things are like they have ever been. We need the kind of mobilization, globally, that the world saw with World War Two. Our D-Day is fast approaching, but there is very little seriousness on this.

We live in a nation of ideas, but those are hard to achieve. Those troops followed orders and rushed onto beaches where many were cut dead by accurate German machine gun fire. The odds were not the best. Yet, they succeeded. We should remember their sacrifice, but also understand that the world they bequeathed us, the long peace, is currently under threat. We must also remember why. We also must face our current crisis. It will involve the same level of investment.

If we do not, then the end of human civilization, and history as we know it may be at hand.

Historian by training. Former day to day reporter. Sometimes a geek who enjoys a good miniatures game.

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