Thursday, June 5, 2014
Day to Remember
June 4. A group of men stands around a house trailer in the rain. They are responsible for almost 3 million young men. For months they have been making preparations -- devising plans, collecting cars and trucks and vehicles, as well as boats and planes and, yes, weapons too.
They were originally scheduled to make their move today. But the weather is bad, and yesterday morning these same men decided to delay everything, to hold everyone up, because of the rainy, windy weather. If conditions improve, they will start things off tomorrow, making the official opening of the campaign on the morning of June 6.
As the hours slip by, men wander to the door of the trailer. One person in particular feels the heavy weight of the decision to be made, for in the end it is up to him and him alone. He gazes up at the clouds scudding across the night sky. Should he go? Or postpone once again?
It's 9:30 that night. The 53-year-old man and his senior staff gather at their headquarters. Everybody knows just how serious the situation is, how the word of just one man will almost certainly send thousands of people to their deaths. But it had to be done, and the sooner the better.
Three meterologists walk into the room. The head weatherman opens the briefing by sketching out a generally dismal picture. Then he reports: "There have been some rapid and unexpected developments in the situation." All eyes turn to him as he presents the possibility of better weather. A new front is moving in from the Atlantic. It should cause a gradual clearing over the beaches. The better conditions will last for about 24 hours, continuing into June 6. After that the weather will likely deteriorate again.
So there is a promise of reasonably fair conditions that might prevail for a day or so. The top man deliberates with his key aides for about 15 minutes. Now it's up to him. A long silence ensues as he weighs the various possibilities. Then he looks up, his face showing the strain of responsibility, and he solemnly announces: "I am quite positive we must give the order. I don't like it, but there it is. I don't see how we can do anything else."
Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower stands up. June 6, 1944, would be D-Day.
Last week Stephen Hayes at The Chubby Chatterbox recalled visiting Monte Cassino and how the trip informed him of the terrible battle that occurred there in Feb. 1944, when nearly 55,000 Allied troops met their bloody end. He reminded us of how much had been sacrificed for freedom, how many lives were violently cut short during that devastating war.
Yet it also made me realize that, despite our murderous past, we have indeed made progress as a civilized society. No, we have not abolished war. No, we have not rooted out the violence and evil that lurks in the far corners of the world, or the far corners of our hearts. But we survived World War II and the Cold War without killing ourselves off, and the fighting we do today is a mere skirmish or two compared to what went on in the last century.
Not to defend or diminish U.S. incursions in Afghanistan or Iraq. War is hell for those who are there, no matter how small the war. According to CNN, in 13 years of war in Afghanistan, Coalition forces suffered 3,431 killed. There have been civilian casualties as well. The UN reported in 2012 there were 2,929 civilian deaths in Afghanistan. Somewhere between 75 and 80 percent of them were perpetrated by the Taliban (people the Taliban may have killed anyway, even without a war).
In Iraq there were 4,487 American military deaths, including those killed in action as well as non-hostile (accidental or illness) deaths.
But by the time the sun set on June 6, some 2,500 Allied servicemen were killed on the beaches of France. In one day alone. Nobody knows how many Germans died, or how many civilians. We do know that by the end of the summer of 1944, 70 years ago, the Battle of Normandy was over. And today, 27 cemeteries mark the remains of over 100,000 people who died that summer.
Sometimes we forget what a cataclysm World War II was to the world. The concentration camps. The mass executions. The brutal fighting. The destruction of much of Europe, Russia, North Africa, Southeast Asia, the Pacific islands. And the atom bomb.
The number of Americans killed in World War II is estimated at 416,800 service men and women. But the war was not fought in America. It was fought overseas, in places like Poland and Russia and the Philippines. One generally accepted estimate says almost 80 percent of the 7.3 million Jews in occupied Europe were Holocaust victims. The number of people killed in Poland alone was estimated at about 5.7 people, including Jews, Slavs, Catholics, Gypsies, men, women and children.
England lost almost a million people, including tens of thousads of civilians. Some 8.7 Russian soldiers were killed, plus another 18 million civilians. About 3 million Japanese lost their lives, 2 million Indians, and somewhere between 10 and 20 million Chinese . . . no one really knows how many Chinese, but every one was a real person.
I myself am antiwar. Who isn't? I understand that appeasement was a factor that helped bring on World War II. That's a tricky issue. But I do not support wars of convenience, wars of moral outrage, wars of power and influence, wars to protect our oil supply -- wars of any kind except the ones we have to fight to save our lives. It's tempting to go around the world trying to save people from repression -- whether they're Muslims in Myanmar or little girls in Nigeria. But it's a dangerous business that rarely wins friends. And the cost almost always outweighs the benefits. You save some people, kill others.
But as we wring our hands over places like Iraq and Afghanistan -- as well we should -- let's remember that we at least have evolved beyond the horrors of the past -- World War II, World War I, the Civil War, and literally hundreds of other wars fought by our ancestors. Or at least, let's hope so.