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First they came for the communists,
but I was not a communist, so I did not speak out. Then they came for the socialists
and the trade unionists, but I was neither, so I did not speak out. Then they
came for the Jews, but I was not a Jew, so I did not speak out. And when they
came for me, there was no one left to speak out for me.
– Pastor Martin Niemoeller.
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|D-Day Plus 63 Years - Monday, June 04, 2007
D-Day Plus 63 Years
Some Things Havenít Changed, Some Have
David C. Stolinsky, MD
On D-Day, June 6, 1944 the greatest amphibious assault in history occurred on the beaches of Normandy. Troops of the United States, the United Kingdom and Canada invaded Nazi-held France. The liberation of Europe had begun.
Before the day ended, about 2500 Allied troops lay dead, and about 7500 were wounded. Approximately 1500 Americans died on those beaches that day Ė as many as died in Iraq in two years. The cost was heavy, but back then we knew that freedom had a price. We knew that often we could pay the price in money or sweat, but sometimes we had to pay the price in blood.
The issue remained in doubt for some time. The Allied commander, Gen. Eisenhower, had prepared two speeches for delivery by radio. The speech he gave described the successful landing. The speech he didnít have to give took the blame for the failure of the invasion.
Even in victory, tragic errors occurred. In World War II as in more recent wars, it is estimated that at least 2 to 3 percent of casualties result from friendly fire. This does not include deaths from plane crashes or vehicle accidents. As our troops prepared to break out of the Normandy beachhead and storm across France, an air bombardment resulted in bombs falling on our own troops. Many were killed, including Lt. Gen. Lesley McNair.
This was not a unique occurrence. During the Civil War, one of the Southís best leaders, Lt. Gen. Thomas Jonathan "Stonewall" Jackson, was killed by three bullets mistakenly fired by his own troops.
Even on D-Day, errors occurred. As shown in the film "The Longest Day," some troops were landed miles from their designated areas. The heaviest fighting occurred on Omaha Beach, one of the two beaches assigned to U.S. troops. Our men were pinned down for hours, and only at great cost did they manage to fight their way off the beach.
All this hasnít changed. War is still fraught with dangers, including the danger of being killed or wounded by friendly fire. Errors occur despite technical advances such as global-positioning satellites. Human beings make mistakes, especially when they are under intense pressure, lack sleep, have poor visibility, and are beset by deafening noise and blinding flashes. When we achieve perfection, we can criticize those who arenít perfect. Until then, we should shut up.
No, the stress of war and the risk of fatal errors havenít changed.
What has changed is the reaction to these errors on the part of the media and the political opposition. What has changed is that much of the media no longer considers itself "our" media, but merely "the" media. The alteration of that one word is of crucial importance.
Jackson was mourned by the Confederacy and eulogized by Gen. Robert E. Lee. McNair was honored by having a fort named for him. The media of the time dwelt on their accomplishments, not on the fact that they were killed by friendly fire. That fact, if it were emphasized, would have damaged morale.
Compare the mediaís reaction to the deaths of Jackson and McNair with the mediaís reaction to the death of Pat Tillman. This NFL star gave up a lucrative football career to volunteer for the Army, then volunteer again for the Rangers. He was awarded a Silver Star after he was killed in action, leading his men in Afghanistan in 2004. Later it was found that he was hit by friendly fire. Though this was discovered by the Army and belatedly announced, the media were quick to cry "cover-up." Criticism was heaped on the Army, on the war in Iraq and on President Bush.
Did the media consider the effect on morale? If not, the media were negligent. If so, the media were hoping to impede our war effort and embarrass the president.
Imagine what would have happened if the media had condemned the death of Gen. McNair as incompetence, screamed "cover-up," and criticized the Army and President Roosevelt in the midst of a key battle of World War II. You canít imagine it? Of course not. Such a thing would never have happened. In those days, the media knew we were at war. They wanted us to win.
And what about our abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo?
Punishing the abusers shows we are moral people. But in all the time the war has gone on, have no Americans been decorated for bravery or other outstanding service? The only one I recall reading about in the mainstream press is Pat Tillman. Where are the photos of our troops repairing water works, power plants, schools and hospitals? If you donít honor good deeds, you lose the right to criticize bad deeds.
Speaking of photos, where are the photos of tortured American prisoners? Where are the photos of raped female prisoners? Where are the photos of mutilated American corpses? Where are the photos of people who jumped from the Twin Towers on 9/11 to avoid being burned alive? If you turn away from wrongs done to us, you lose the right to focus on wrongs Ė or alleged wrongs Ė done by us.
During the World War II Battle of the Bulge, German SS troops massacred at least 86 captured Americans at Malmťdy. After this, and after we began liberating concentration camps run by the SS, we took very few SS prisoners. A typical order states, ďNo SS troops or paratroopers will be taken prisoners but will be shot on sight.Ē
It wasnít ďlegalĒ to shoot surrendering SS men, but it was understandable. If you act like a beast, you canít expect humane treatment. The media understood this, as did judges. Unlike what is happening today, no civilian court tried to interfere with the conduct of the war by President Roosevelt, or with the treatment of prisoners by our armed forces.
During World War II, not the roughly 400 prisoners held in Guantanamo, but over 400,000 German prisoners of war were held in camps in this country. They were in the custody of the Army, under authority of President Roosevelt. They were held until the war ended. No civilian court presumed to interfere with the presidentís right Ė and duty Ė to conduct the war as commander-in-chief. These prisoners were captured in uniform, so − unlike those at Guantanamo − they were covered by the Geneva Convention.
But something else happened during that war. In 1942 two German submarines surfaced off Long Island and Florida, and eight saboteurs were put ashore. They were captured and tried in a secret military tribunal. One was sentenced to life imprisonment, one to 30 years, and six were sentenced to death.
President Roosevelt let it be known that he would order the executions no matter how the Supreme Court ruled: ďI won't give them up...I won't hand them over to any United States marshal armed with a writ of habeas corpus. Understand?Ē Whatever you think of Roosevelt, you canít deny that he was a strong wartime leader. And you canít deny that his leadership was respected by the courts, the media and the political opposition. Things were different back then.
The Supreme Court quickly ruled 8-0 in favor of the president, and six of the saboteurs were promptly electrocuted. Note that like the 400,000 German prisoners of war, these men were held in the United States, but unlike them, they were not in uniform and not covered by the Geneva Convention. In fact, two were naturalized American citizens, one of whom was executed.
The 1942 Supreme Court ruled that "the enemy combatant who without uniform comes secretly through the lines for the purpose of waging war by destruction of life or property" could be tried by secret military tribunals. This is the precedent that the 2006 Supreme Court scrapped. Of course, in 1942 we knew we were at war.
But, you say, we arenít at war. Really? What do you call it when our troops are fighting and dying Ė salsa dancing? As attorney Mark Levin points out in "Men in Black" (page 262), the Constitution gives Congress power to declare war, but does not specify any words to be used. Congress voted President Bush the authority to use military force in Afghanistan, then voted a second time to authorize military force in Iraq. Yes, we are at war. Our troops fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan know this only too well. Itís time the rest of us learned it, too.
Itís been a long time since D-Day, June 6, 1944. Much remains the same, especially the chaos and danger of the battlefield. But much has changed in the attitude of the media, the courts and the political opposition. This change has not been for the better.
As we look back to that day 63 years ago, we should reflect on the qualities that allowed us to achieve victory over tyranny. And we should do our best to rebuild those qualities, now that we need them again.
Dr. Stolinsky writes on political and social issues. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.