Americans by and large like to think we are the ‘greatest in the world’ about a lot of things, when the truth is, we’re really no better (and in many ways worse) than the rest of the world at present, not to mention a lot of past countries, kingdoms and dynasties.
Over the last few days I’ve been watching the cacophony of programs, news reports, and documentaries about the 75th anniversary of the D-Day invasion of 1944. Granted there was a lot of the same hoopla 5 years ago on the 70th anniversary and 25 years before that at the 50th. But with so many World War II veterans dying every year, it’s not going to be long before there aren’t any left. Much with the demise of the World War I veterans, the last of whom died in 2011. Someone that served in 1945 at the lesser age of 16-18 (with permission a 16 yr old could enlist and there were many that lied about their age and were able to serve) would be 90-92 today.
One of the documentaries posited that it was better that the majority of the soldiers that landed at Normandy on D-Day were green, in that if the majority were combat veterans, it was likely that too many would get killed before they had a chance to make a difference further inland. Allowing soldiers that had little to no combat experience to go in first did allow higher casualties, but even though they by and large were being treated as cannon fodder, they were serving a higher purpose later on. Certainly that was little to no comfort to their families, but when you’re embroiled in a war, sometimes one has to make the crappy call and detail people to be sacrificed for the greater good.
One reads about how scared they all were, even the ones in the landing craft that had some inkling about what all they were going to face. Many had no animosity towards the average German soldier they were up against, knowing that like them, they were probably conscripted (drafted), didn’t really want to be there, and were just doing their job with mostly the hope of seeing tomorrow, and then the next day and the day after that. Personally, I never served in the military, though there was one point when I was in college I considered it strongly, talked to an US Navy recruiter, but ultimately, because of familial obligations and responsibilities, decided against serving. I do sometimes wonder what sort of career I might have had if I’d gone through with that decision. More than likely I wouldn’t be where I am, doing what I’m doing and so on.
My adopted father was in World War II, but his service was at the latter stages of the war. He was drafted in 1944 and didn’t see action until 1945 in the Pacific theater. He never talked much about his time in the service, he was in the US Army and the few times I tried to get him to engage and talk about it, he just said it was best not spoken of and that was the end of it. I’m not really certain what all he saw and experienced, but it must have been sufficient to keep him from wanting to relive it, or at least re-experience it by remembering, or telling someone about it.
The celebrations of D-Day are now over, and the beaches of Omaha, Sword, Juno, Utah and Gold are quiet once more. With the smattering of tourists now walking along the shoreline where at the same point 75 years ago terror and bravery reigned. Just like at many other places in the history of warfare, people remember and people forget what happened in these places. I certainly believe there won’t ever be campaigns the like of what happened in World War II, as all wars are going to be smaller in the post-nuclear world. Not that it’s a bad thing, just something to be aware of. War is still a business, and we need to perhaps get past that for purposes of settling differences. I wonder if we ever will.