Along with July 4, 1776, December 7, 1941 — and perhaps, someday, Barack Obama’s Birthday — June 6, 1944, will long be remembered as one of the most important and perilous days in the history of Western civilization. For it was on that date that, sitting off the coast of France, the largest armada in naval history began to discharge reluctant passengers on to the beaches of Normandy, France, and the liberation of Europe from Nazi tyranny had begun.
On invasion beaches code-named Gold, Sword, Juno, and Utah, largely British, Canadian, and American troops surged ashore, but it was on and around the beach code-named Omaha — bloody Omaha — that thousands of American soldiers gave their lives so that the enslaved peoples of Europe could once again breathe free.
At the end of the day their bodies lay stacked on barges like cordwood, with many more wounded and traumatized. But the tenuous toehold the survivors of that awful day gave the forces of freedom would lead, in time, to crushing the mighty German Wehrmacht and to helping pro-Western style democratic government live to see another generation.
But those who refuse to learn from the mistakes of the past are condemned to repeat them, and the collective memory is short. Most combat survivors will tell you they are not heroes, merely men who somehow successfully kept themselves alive while fighting less for King and country than for the guys on either side of them. But how we choose to remember such men (and they were mostly men — the American Cemetery above Omaha Beach contains 9,383 servicemen’s graves and only four women’s) says more about our society and our values than it does about the men themselves.
Do we choose to remember as noble the often unwilling sacrifice of young men plucked from their homes, their high schools, and the families and friends only to be trained as killers in support of a greater cause? Do we choose to remember the cause of freedom itself, which history teaches each generation must fight for anew lest it perish from the earth? Or do we choose simply to remember the atrocities of warfare and to denigrate the sacrifice of those who served?
Sadly, in the case of the CBS television network, it is the last. For on Sunday, June 2, 2013 — the nearest Sunday preceding the 69th anniversary of the Normandy invasion — the CBS show “Sunday Morning” chose not to focus on the valor and sacrifice of the Allied troops but instead on the inevitable atrocities of armed warfare against the civilian population, as perpetrated by Americans.
Ignoring entirely the Third Reich’s trampling of every human right known to humankind – starting with the most basic rights to life and liberty – CBS mentioned not a single concentration camp; not a single gypsy, Jew, or homosexual who was gassed, burned alive, or turned into a human lampshade; not a single SS officer who stripped a mother of her children and her clothes and sent her off to Buchenwald.
No, the network chose instead to begin by stating that an estimated 19,000 French civilians perished in the Allies’ pre-D-Day bombing of strategic German positions in France. Never mind that — unlike today’s commander-in-chief and his generals — FDR and General Eisenhower had no global positioning satellites and no precision-guided drones, only daring B-17 and B-24 flight crews relying on electromechanical Norton bomb-sights. And never mind that, unlike the Nazi regime that the Allies fought to overturn, American bombers were not deliberately targeting civilians in France, only German defenses.
But just like the Allies’ pre-invasion strategic bombing, CBS’s highlighting of regrettable civilian casualties was simply the warm-up to its real rhetorical mission: decrying the evils of American soldiers having sex with French women while liberating their towns. This may seem strange in a society that celebrates sex so much that abortion has become a secular sacrament and the President of the United States publicly congratulates a Georgetown law student for demanding free birth control, but it’s apparently all about choice and according to CBS some French women didn’t have much choice.
No doubt some American soldiers who had been shot at for months, seen their buddies’ faces and limbs blown off in front of them, scooped up their entrails, and not seen their wives or girlfriends in over a year took what could at best call “liberties” with young (and even not-so-young) French women. And also, perhaps, even some forcible rapes went unreported, undetected, and unprosecuted. But that neither was nor is the official practice or policy of American armed forces. Rape in any form should be neither condoned nor tolerated, and the United States Military does not tolerate it.
Civilians may find it hard to believe, but under the Uniform Code of Military Justice even consensual adultery can be prosecuted as a crime and a forcible rape conviction can mean a death sentence. During World War II in Europe a primary purpose of the Military Police was to mark “off limits” — especially to enlisted men — many if not most bars and bordellos in the towns the men had just liberated, much to their disgruntlement. What boys and girls did on their own time and of their own volition was harder to police, but the MP’s did what they could.
But back to CBS and “Sunday Morning”: The focus of its D-Day segment is of a piece with the current administration’s espoused military priorities. Having declared unilateral surrender in the war against Islamic fascist terrorism, the White House has decided that the purpose of the military is to lead the charge for gender and gender-preference equality in American culture instead.
After encouraging gay and lesbian troops to serve openly and having welcomed women into front-line combat positions, the administration is shocked — shocked! — to discover that the biggest threat to military discipline and combat readiness is now unwanted sexual advances, otherwise known as sexual “assault.” But unlike World War II-era MP’s, the current administration doesn’t even try to keep the boys and those who love them apart.
And so, sadly, it has come to pass: The commander-in-chief chastises the graduating class at the U.S. Naval Academy for sexual misconduct, the secretary of defense does the same for the graduating class at West Point, and the president announces in his most recent “national security” speech that the lesson of history is that, in lieu of victory, “all wars must come to an end.”
The real lessons of history are that war is a dirty, nasty, and chaotic business — both for those who fight and those caught up in it — but that war is sometimes necessary, if not inevitable, and that those who will not fight for freedom are destined to lose it. Those are lessons worth remembering on the 69th anniversary of D-Day.