Thursday, June 6, 2013

D-Day Remembered

I posted this near the beginning of my web log experience, and this basic re-print is just as germane today.

Scott Johnson at Power Line commemorates this 69th anniversary of D-Day at Normandy, the largest amphibious attack in history by far, and has resurrected two great articles.  The first, ‘Too Much, Too Late’, is by Professor David Gelertner of Yale, originally published in the Wall Street Journal in 2004.  Prof Gelertner takes on the phrase ‘the greatest generation’ by the sanctimonious pandering of the “cultural establishment ... especially intense among members of the 1960s generation who once chose to treat all present and former veterans like dirt.”  He continues by saying that if we cared about the topic of World War II, our children should be taught at least four topics:
The major battles of the war – When I was a child in the 1960s, names like Corregidor and Iwo Jima were still sacred, and pronounced everywhere with respect. ... Today the Battle of Midway has become niche-market nostalgia material, and most children (and many adults) have never heard of it.  Thus we honor "the greatest generation."
The bestiality of the Japanese – If we forget this we dishonor the thousands who were tortured and murdered, and put ourselves in danger of believing the soul-corroding lie that all cultures are equally bad or good.  Some Americans nowadays seem to think America's behavior during the war was worse than Japan's – we did intern many loyal Americans of Japanese descent.  That was unforgivable – and unspeakably trivial compared to Japan's unique achievement, mass murder one atrocity at a time. ... In the Japanese-occupied Philippines alone, at least 131,028 civilians and Allied prisoners of war were murdered.  The Japanese committed crimes against Allied POWs and Asians that would be hard still, today, for a respectable newspaper even to describe....
The attitude of American intellectuals – such as “Our entry into the war, under the slogan of 'Stop Hitler!' would actually result in the immediate introduction of totalitarianism over here. ... The American masses can best help [the German people] by fighting at home to keep their own liberties." ... Why rake up these Profiles in Disgrace?  Because in the Iraq War era they have a painfully familiar ring.
The veterans’ neglected voice – World War II produced an extraordinary literature of first-person soldier narratives – most of them out of print or unknown. ... The Library of America includes two volumes on "Reporting World War II," but where are the soldiers' memoirs versus the reporters'?
Next is ‘First Wave at Omaha Beach’ by S L A Marshall, one of the best-known (and official) historians of World War II and Korea, published in The Atlantic in November 1960.  He begins by explaining how “the passing of the years and the retelling of the story have softened the horror of Omaha Beach on D Day.”  This has occurred, in his opinion, by the fact that the initial reports from which the standard account had been built were based on the immediate statements of the survivors.  But Marshall returned to the enormous amount of detail accumulated during the field research afterward in order to make some sort of sense of the overall magnitude of the assault (though he modestly neglects to mention that he was in charge of that research and that it began with the landing of his team while the battle was still being fought).

He draws you into the story by building on the fact that Omaha Beach (one of five assault beaches, in addition to the paratroop landing zones inland) covered a two-division front landing (enormous, to the uninitiated) but only six rifle companies were relatively effective as units during the initial assault, since the others (some three times that number) had been "shattered and foundered before they could start to fight."  He goes on to explain, from his faded notes, what can best be discerned about the fate of the first wave of the assault comprising Able and Baker Companies, 116th Infantry, 29th Division.

Normally, I would say ‘read the whole thing’.  Rather, I implore you to read it all, and I wish that if any one article on the topic could be thrust upon our atrophied and effete public education system, it should be this.  Trying to excerpt some lines or paragraphs to give one the gist of the  assault would be woefully inadequate.

These articles should not be lost, and my thanks go to Scott Johnson for providing them.

W H Auden’s ‘Epitaph for an Unknown Soldier’ sums it all up succinctly:
To save your world you asked this man to die:
Would this man, could he see you now, ask “Why?”

1 comment:

  1. Increasingly I do not think asking young men to risk dying (once a matter of course) for an abstract ideal is going to be enough. We fight now at the whim of presidents and we don't win and so what's the point? I had a great uncle (Navy) at Omaha on the first day whose landing craft was hit by a mortar and he swam himself and his radio ashore and directed fire from such as the Battleship Texas. When his nephew (Army) came ashore on the second day he was surprised to find his uncle still alive.


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