D-Day Plus 69 Years: Have We Learned Anything?

By | June 6, 2013 | 0 Comments

June 6 is here, but do we recognize the significance of the day? How many of us pause to remember the heroism shown and the sacrifices made that day? As I write these words and you read them, we are enjoying one of the freedoms that those men fought to preserve, but are we aware of how fortunate we are?
Instead, we bicker among ourselves. We forget “E Pluribus Unum.” But 69 years ago, we knew what was important. We were engaged in mortal combat with German and Japanese tyrants. Our multi-racial, multi-ethnic armed forces were in the process of vanquishing the “pure races” of German Nazis and Japanese fascists.



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. If you want a vague idea of what D-Day was like, watch the first 20 minutes of “Saving Private Ryan.” For a Hollywood-style version, watch “The Longest Day.”
Before the day ended, about 4414 Allied troops lay dead. About 2499 Americans died on those beaches that day. We have lost 54 American troops in Afghanistan in the first five months of 2013. Granted, that was 54 too many. Nevertheless, at this rate, it would take over 19 years to suffer as many deaths as we did on that one day. The cost was high, but back then we knew that freedom has a price. We knew that often we could pay the price in money or sweat, but sometimes we had to pay it in blood.



The issue remained in doubt for many hours. The Allied commander, Gen. Eisenhower, had prepared two speeches for delivery by radio. The speech he gave described the successful landing. The speech he didn’t have to give took the blame for the failure of the invasion.
But now, instead of our successes, the media dwell on abuse of enemy prisoners. 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? Where are the photos of the 11 Medal of Honor recipients? Where are the photos of our people repairing water works, power plants, schools, and hospitals? Instead, photos and stories about Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse appeared on the front page of the New York Times for 32 consecutive days. If you don’t honor good deeds, you lose the right to criticize bad deeds.
And where are the photos of tortured American prisoners? Where are the photos of raped female prisoners? Where are the photos of dead American troops? Where are the photos of people who jumped from the Twin Towers on 9/11 to avoid being burned alive? If you close your eyes to wrongs done to us, you lose the right to focus on wrongs – or alleged wrongs – done by us.
During the World War II Battle of the Bulge, German SS troops massacred at least 86 captured Americans at Malmédy. After this, and after we began liberating concentration camps run by the SS, we took fewer SS prisoners. A typical order states, “No SS troops or paratroopers will be taken prisoners but will be shot on sight.
It wasn’t “legal” to shoot surrendering SS men, but it was understandable. If you don’t act like a human being, you can’t expect to be treated like one. The media understood this. 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 at its maximum, but over 400,000 German prisoners of war were held in camps in the U.S. They were in the custody of the Army, under authority of President Roosevelt. One of the camps was near my mother’s home town. They were held until the war ended. No civilian court presumed to interfere with the president’s right – and duty – 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 Conventions.
When code breakers discovered that Japanese Admiral Yamamoto, the architect of Pearl Harbor, would be flying on an inspection tour, we shot down his plane. Unlike the recent killing of Bin Laden, the architect of 9/11, no one complained that Yamamoto should have been “arrested” and put on trial. No one was so removed from reality that he did not applaud the death of an effective enemy leader.
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 told his attorney general that he would order the executions no matter how the Supreme Court ruled: “I won’t give them up…I won’t hand them over to any United States marshal armed with a writ of habeas corpus. Understand?” Whatever you think of Roosevelt, you can’t deny that he was a strong wartime leader. And you can’t deny that his leadership was respected by the courts, the media, and the political opposition. Things were different back then.
Bowing to the inevitable, 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 Conventions. 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.
Our troops are fighting and dying, but now the government calls this “overseas contingency operations.” Does this absurd name make war less dangerous? The Constitution gives Congress power to declare war, but does not specify any words. Congress voted to authorize the use of military force in Afghanistan, then voted again to authorize military force in Iraq. Yes, we are at war. Our troops know this only too well. It’s time the rest of us learned it, too.
It’s 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 69 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. But if we need a reminder of what those qualities are, we need only look at our multi-racial, multi-ethnic armed forces. They are role models for us all.
The images of D-Day were grim. But without D-Day, there would have been no joyous images of the liberation of Paris and the rest of Western Europe. Unless we are willing to sacrifice and if necessary to fight, we will be unable to give the gift of freedom to others, or even to keep it for ourselves and our children.


Critics often say, “It’s not your grandfathers’ war.” True, the mountains of Afghanistan don’t look anything like the beaches of Normandy. But the fundamental theme is the same: Violent fanatics aim to enforce their dream of world domination, and we aim to stop them.
The real question is this: Are we like our grandfathers? Do we have the courage and resolve to face the economic and military challenges of our day as steadfastly as they faced the more severe challenges of their day? Time will tell.
Our grandfathers reacted to President Roosevelt’s D-Day prayer by being inspired. On the contrary, how would we react if our president marked a solemn occasion with a deeply religious public prayer? Imagine the protests. Picture the scathing criticism. But read Roosevelt’s beautiful prayer. You will understand how much has changed in those 69 years – and not all for the better.
Contact: dstol@prodigy.net. You are welcome to publish or post these articles, provided that you cite the author and website.

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