D-Day: Sixty-Seven Years Later

Nearly seven decades have passed since that pivotal day in 1944 when US troops stormed the beaches of Normandy in France in one of the bloodiest battles involving Americans in the entire war.  Most of those who served during World War II and lived to come home and tell the tale are dead now, and soon there will be none left.  Which leads me to wonder:  have we learned anything from our experiences in that war?  If so, what are the lessons?  And what will they mean to future generations?

The most obvious answer to the first question is:  yes and no.  Clearly war is hell, but the message obviously got garbled along the way, since we have been involved in wars (or police actions) on plenty of occasions since.  Korea and Vietnam appear to have been largely forgotten, despite the success of the movie and television show “M*A*S*H” and the continuing plight of the Vietnam veterans.  The first Gulf War nobody talks about anymore, perhaps because it was short and the argument can be made that we “won” (though to my mind the end of a war is more about who died and who survived than who won and who lost).  And we’re still fighting in various locations in the Middle East despite the President’s campaign promise to end the wars in this region (one of my few real disappointments with the man, but I have adopted a “wait and see” attitude about him at this point in time).

As a member of the United Methodist Church, I am familiar with my church’s view of war as occasionally being a “necessary evil.”  I am not completely naive, so I do see the sense in that.  It is the unnecessary wars that we have either entered or gotten dragged into since the end of WW II that bothers me.  Korea solved nothing in the end; we were left with a divided nation, one side our ally and friend and the other our enemy whose deadliness has yet to be properly assessed.  Vietnam was even worse in some ways:  the outcome is similar to that of Korea, but the treatment of the returning veterans left a bad taste in many people’s mouths that lingers to this day.  And frankly, I confess I have no idea what we are still doing in Afghanistan and other countries in that region, despite the recent finding and killing of Osama Bin Laden after nearly ten years.

Let me be clear on one thing:  when 9/11 happened, and the best information we had was that OBL was in Afghanistan, I had no problem with President Bush’s decision to go in.  I didn’t like the man much, but really, what else could he have done?  It was what he did next that was reprehensible in my book.  He abandoned Afghanistan and even said at least twice that he didn’t know and didn’t care where Osama Bin Laden was, then turned around and convinced the UN (with the help of UK’s PM Tony Blair, whom I shall NEVER understand) that there were “weapons of mass destruction” in Iraq (there weren’t) and that Saddam Hussein was a cruel dictator who needed to be overthrown (okay, there was some truth to that one, but the world is lousy with cruel dictators and mostly we not only leave them alone, we give them billions of dollars in taxpayer money in aid programs to combat hunger, famine, AIDS, you name it.  Just take a look at Africa in the thirty years that have passed since the AIDS pandemic began).

Okay, deep breath.  I am all over the map here, I know.  And as a student of American History (AP class under the terrifying Miss Rosellen Quinn, whose students loved her), in spite of my distaste for war, I can at least find plausible reasons for our involvement in the First and Second World Wars, particularly the Second.  But aside from W’s first foray into Afghanistan, I cannot really find a single good reason for all the wars we have gotten ourselves into since 1945.  Yet it still goes on, lining the pockets of defense contractors and getting thousands of our young people killed.

I am not sure what my point is in all this.  Remembering is important, especially WWII with the Holocaust in Europe and the consequences of using nuclear weapons on Japan (no judgment call here, but all actions have consequences).  If we forget either of those things, we do so at not only our own peril,  but that of the entire world.  And despite everything, genocide has continued to happen.  On this I confess I am of two minds; on the one hand I fail to see why the USA should be like the world’s policeman, yet on the other hand, to sit back and do nothing doesn’t work for me either.

Maybe if our politicians (are there any statesmen left?  I like and admire President Obama, but I am not quite ready to give him that title yet) would spend a little less time planning wars and a little more time trying to figure out ways to influence other countries without going to war, John Lennon’s dream of a world without war might just become a possibility.  I doubt I’ll live to see it, but someone needs to be giving more thought to the kind of world we are handing over to future generations.  We won’t care a bit; we will be long gone.  But I think posterity will judge us harshly for some of the choices we’ve made.

At any rate, if there can be any good that can come out of all the fighting that is going on “over there,” the best thing I can think of is that people will stop being so Goddamn hysterical about being “right” and think about being human.  It is easy to shoot and kill some nameless other that has been dubbed “The Enemy” by the powers that be; when you realize that this “enemy” is a man or woman not too unlike yourself with hopes and dreams and all the rest of it, it is not so easy to pull that trigger.  If future generations do not learn these lessons, the human race is in serious trouble.

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”  —  George Santayana

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