Hello out there. What’s up? How’s things? What’s shakin’? Stuck in a cubby hole in corporate America at the moment? Off to the supermarket? Out for a jog? Walking the dog? Checking the social calendar for this weekend’s options? Getting that filling at the dentist? Browsing your social media empire? Checking the account balance? Maybe just sitting, staring at the tellie, but really not watching anything? At the library, the brick and mortar kind, that is?
Well, you must be doing something, okay? And whatever that something is, you have some very particular people to thank for being able to do pretty much as you please, here in the land of the brave and home of the free, at least. Whom might those people be? How about Fred Rogers? No, not that Fred Rogers, the preternaturally calm, gentile-voiced emotional care-giver to children who dropped in on his “neighborhood” for all those many years of his TV program. No, I’m referring to Fred Rogers, seagoing artillery, 3rd Canadian Division from Petrolia, Ontario. Thank Raider Nelson,, paratrooper, 507th Parachute Regiment, from Des Plaines, Illinois. Or William Ward, rifleman King’s Own Scottish Borderers, from Glasgow, United Kingdom. They were among 156,000 Allied troops who were deployed on what is known as D-Day, a pivotal moment in World War II, on June 6, 1944.
Today is the 75th anniversary of D-Day. The tactical strategies of that day involved the largest amphibian force known in human history, counting over 5000 ships. The attack was code named Operation Overlord, and it was anything but an assured victory for those troops, who represented not only the United States, England and Canada, as noted above, but also Australia, Belgium, Czechoslovakia, New Zealand, Poland, France, Greece, Denmark, the Soviet Union, Norway and many others. It was, literally, a world war. And no, victory was not guaranteed. In fact, the Allied Supreme Commander, General Dwight Eisenhower, had written a statement that would be used should the invasion, which was aimed at beating back the German forces that had been gobbling up most of Europe starting in 1939, fail.
But fail it did not. And it is unimaginable as to what the world would be like today if the Allied forces not only lost the invasion of Normandy, France, on that day in June, 1944, but the war itself. If that would have been the outcome, you would with almost absolute certainty, not be doing any of the things this blog entry speculated upon in it’s opening paragraph. Indeed, you nor I, may never have even been born. At best, a post WWII defeat would mean our lives would be quite different than it is today, particularly in the U.S., which prides itself on being (supposedly) the world’s greatest democracy. After all, as that saying goes: to the victor goes the spoils. Do you think that Hitler, hellbent of dominating the WORLD, would have not shaped a post-war America in his own particularly demented, fascist, ways?
But who, today–regardless of it being the 75th anniversary of that momentous mounting of ships and soldiers from those many nations–ever stops to contemplate such an negative outcome? I doubt today’s school children have any clue of this important part of world history. High schoolers? They may have heard about our two world wars, but are they given much real context on it and it’s profound importance to then and now? Maybe some history buffs know their stuff–so to speak– on WWII, but generally speaking, given even the youngest living veteran of D-Day has to be in his early 90s, and more likely late 90s, these heroes of that moment are few and far between. Their children, and their grandchildren, the great-grandchildren may have had their eyes opened to the importance of the sacrifices made to literally save civilization from a fascist nightmare by the Allied troops. However, with each passing year, such direct, living connections to that effort diminish. Before long, only the historians of that war and their voices will be available to document the danger and determination to defeat that all-too-real global threat.
So, yes, no matter what kind of day you may be having, mentally, physically, personally, professionally, man or woman, regardless of your particular race, ethnicity or faith, you are alive in a world that would not remotely resemble current reality but for the last generation that truly fought a fight that had to be won. Rather than an abstract understanding that good triumphed over evil in World War II, think about how incredible the will to win that war had to be. What must it have been like to be any part of the Allied forces who faced the very real spectre of defeat? By the time the war ended, with Germany and Japan surrendering, estimates of up to 80 million people died, with about 55 million of them civilian casualties. Mind boggling, is it not? The U.S. lost 416,000 soldiers, while the Soviet Union lost about ten million. Germany and Japan lost a combined 8 million fighters.
Now, in our 2019 world, the ironies abound when reflecting in the rear view mirror that is history. Germany and Japan are our allies. Russia is our adversary. Another irony is that the likelihood of a WWIII will always be a possibility, and it very likely may be fought with nuclear weapons, the creation of which was the by-product of WWII. As Einstein famously said, World War Four is bound to be fought with sticks and stones. And that nuclear genie is never going back into that lantern.
Whatever our current world brings in the very near or far future will be indebted to the Allied victory of that 2nd world war, for better or worse. What does come at us is, to be sure, up to us, around the globe. The shape of things are shifting in the wind, to steal from a poem by Rachel Haddis. What do we know beyond the rapture and the dread? At least know your goddam history, please.
Rapture or dread, our possibilities in the modern world have been granted to us by those who, on June 6, 1944, as well as before and after that very important date, sacrificed so much during that global conflict.
A prayer inscribed on the the walls of the memorial Chapel overlooking Omaha Beach (one of the attack points on D-Day): Think not only upon their passing, remember the glory of their spirit.