Saturday, June 07, 2014


Yesterday was the 70th anniversary of D-day.

I remember learning about it in school. In fact, one year, in grade school, there was a  local veteran who had been in D-day and was willing to talk about it to the school - so we had an assembly where he talked about what it had been like, and then took questions from the kids. This would have been the mid 1970s, so the veterans were still mostly with us, and were still fairly young - in their 50s or thereabouts.

(That's where I learned the D stood for Day. It doesn't really represent anything different. Also, H-Hour, the H doesn't stand for anything different).

It's amazing to read about. The bravery, going out there and doing what had to be done (to turn the tide of the war) even though you knew there was a good chance you'd be killed. Disembarking under heavy enemy fire (and strong winds making the landing harder) and just going, going, going. Because you had to.

And a huge number of men were enlisted in those years. Pretty much every family in the US had someone who was in the forces somewhere. (My mom had an older brother - I never met him, he died when I was a baby - who was in the Navy in the South Pacific). I wonder whether we (Generation X and following generations) are somehow softer, if we could find enough good recruits for that large of a force today. Oh, of course: lots of men and women go into the military, and by and large they are very tough people who get the job done. But I wonder if the average American is as tough now as his or her 1940s-era counterpart.

I suppose, though, given what we are fighting and how we have to fight it now, it's different. In World War II, you were fighting an organized army, that had specific uniforms. They were lead by a leader of a country who was determined by us and our allies to be in the wrong (I would argue that objectively, any reasonable person would find a fascist leader to be in the wrong). But I also think that by and large, the ordinary citizens of those countries were not so much a threat or our enemies... I remember reading about some German POWs who were sent to camps in, I think it was Nebraska? and after the war, at least a few of them asked permission to stay, noting that as POWs of the Americans, they were treated better than they were as recruits in the German army. (And that always struck me: that we were better to our enemy combatants we had captured than their own leadership was to them.)

Now, the enemy is far more nebulous. Rather than being the soldiers of a country, it's more of an ideological thing. (We see Americans who have "gone to the other side" and fought against us, and in some cases we don't know our enemy until he blows us up, or comes damn near to it.) That seems harder to fight, and also there are so many unpredictable things - thinking of the Boston Marathon bombers - they were allegedly brought in under an asylum program, but they turned out to be terrorists as much as the guy on the street in Kandahar who wants to blow up American soldiers.

And yes, there were alleged cases of spies infiltrating in WWII, but you also hear of cases of them being apprehended. (Something someone once told me, I have no idea if it's true or not, but one thing they used was to ask the person to sing "all verses" of our National Anthem. Because native-born Americans would almost certainly only know the first verse, and supposedly someone who received instruction in "how to be an American" might have learned all the verses.)

Also, with the war on terrorism, there's really no way to say, "We beat them and we won." When Hitler killed himself (presumably either because everything was crumbling or because he didn't want to be caught and put on trial), things started to fall apart and ultimately Germany capitulated. And the Allies were able to declare terms of surrender they had to agree to, and essentially we wound up shaking hands and beginning to put life back together. (And arguably, at times since WWII, Germany, or at least West Germany, has been a better ally to us than France was....) But I don't see any way to declare our war with terrorism "over," short of killing everyone who identifies with that particular strain of Islam (And there can always be new converts...) or of ending the hatred of Western culture in some of the world. (Which isn't gonna happen, even if we made huge, Constitution-violating changes in how we all live our lives).

But I also think we've changed as a society. Perhaps we don't have the same backbone we had in WWII. (And oh, how I'd love to see Patton or some of those other general resurrected and put into the fight against terrorism. Maybe they aren't "politically correct" for the new order of how US politics works, but I think they'd do a lot of good.)

But it does make me feel awe to think of what those men did, so many years ago - the courage and the sacrifice. And really, it was what began to tip the war to the side of the Allies winning.

And now, sadly, those men are leaving us all too rapidly.

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