70 Years Ago This Week

The video above was produced 7 years ago.  If D-Day were to occur today under the current administration I suspect that the coverage of most of the media would be in the nature of  “OBAMA STORMS ASHORE IN NORMANDY!” or “THE NAZIS ARE AFRAID OF OBAMA!”.  When the press isn’t in the tank however, their coverage of military matters normally is in accord with this sarcastic comment of General Robert E. Lee:

“We made a great mistake in the beginning of our struggle, and I fear, in spite of all we can do, it will prove to be a fatal mistake. We appointed all our worst generals to command our armies, and all our best generals to edit the newspapers.”

In 1982 when I graduated from law school, and went to work at a law firm, I was reminded of just how living a memory D-Day still was at that time.  The senior partner had lost his son on Omaha Beach.  Another partner, who had been elected a judge and left the firm before I arrived, had been severely wounded at Omaha Beach and still walked with a pronounced limp as a result.  A third partner in the firm had been a ground officer with the Eighth Air Force, and had helped to co-ordinate air support on D-Day.

Eisenhower demonstrated his true greatness when he secretly had this letter prepared to be released in the event the Normandy landings failed:  “Our landings in the Cherbourg-Havre area have failed to gain a satisfactory foothold and I have withdrawn the troops. My decision to attack at this time and place was based upon the best information available. The troop, the air force and the navy did all that bravery and devotion to duty could do. If any blame or fault attaches to the attempt, it is mine alone.”  Italics added.  A willingness to shoulder all the blame in the event of such a colossal defeat is something rare in history.  Eisenhower idolized General Robert E. Lee and Lee showed precisely this same rare quality.  After Pickett’s Charge he met the defeated Confederate troops and told them that it was all his fault.  He tendered his resignation to Jefferson Davis, which the Confederate President wisely refused to accept.  It is easy to be noble in victory, far harder in defeat.

In the event D-Day did not fail. 2,499 Americans and 1,915 from Great Britain, Canada and the other Allied Powers paid the ultimate price for the victory gained that day.  They deserve to be remembered for helping to remove a terrible evil from the world 70 years ago.

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  1. Great video — but they left out that Eisenhower had no “exit strategy”.

    No, we could not do D-day today. Gen. Patton would have been in fact fired for slapping a soldier. The press would never have cooperated in keeping all the secrets that needed to be kept. Most important, public support for the war would probably have melted away by 1943.

  2. I am not so sure Thomas. Few people looking at America in the 1930s would have predicted that she could have performed so heroically and successfully as the nation did in World War II. Life and death challenges can bring forward unusual amounts of energy and determination in nations as well as individuals.

  3. Among the many memorable actions of D-Day was the start of the battle of the Vercors plateau when in response to General de Gaulle’s broadcast signal of 5 June 1944, « le chamois des Alpes bondit » [The chamois of the Alps leaps forth] 4,000 maquisards occupied the mountainous area of Vassieux-en-Vercors in South-Eastern France – about as far away from the Normandy beaches as it is possible to get – and tied up some 11,000 German troops for over a month.
    Similar, smaller campaigns were waged all over the South and South West, in the hopes of deceiving the Germans into thinking the Normandy landings were a feint, with the real attack coming in the South.
    For at least one major component, the Spanish exiles, their armed struggle against Fascism had begun not on 18 June 1940 but on 17 July 1936. In the South-West, they eventually liberated 17 towns.

  4. Omaha seems to me to be the American equivalent of the first day of the Battle of the Somme; a lot of factors, including luck, combining to create a near-catastrophe. The decision to decline the offer of AVREs (Hobart’s ‘funnies’) for no compelling reason; the inadequacy of the naval gunfire and air support (in contrast with what happened on the British and Canadian beaches); the launching of the DD tanks too far out from the shore; the inevitable failures of command and control. Like the Somme it was a bad start to an ultimately successful operation.

  5. This is great: “We made a great mistake in the beginning of our struggle, and I fear, in spite of all we can do, it will prove to be a fatal mistake. We appointed all our worst generals to command our armies, and all our best generals to edit the newspapers.”
    Thanks for sharing your insights into history Donald. I hope lots of younger people are reading this blog and learning the people and events of history are Not old news, but really are still current, still powerful.

  6. Don

    One defeat after another. Omaha beach, then Cherbourg, Falise, Paris and on and on. I just don’t understand why the Germans surrendered when they had up on the rope at the Elbe.

    I do not support military censorship of the press, but it has been my observation the quality of the coverage nose dives when the press gets there and takes over from the military journalists.

  7. “If I had my choice I would kill every reporter in the world but I am sure we would be getting reports from hell before breakfast.”

    “I think I know what military fame is; to be killed on the field of battle and have your name misspelled in the newspapers.”

    William T. Sherman

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