Tomorrow we observe the 75th anniversary of D-Day, the beginning of Operation Overlord, in which the armies of the United States, Great Britain and Canada landed on the beaches of Normandy in France and began to free France, Belgium, Holland, Luxembourg and Holocaust survivors across Europe from Nazi tyranny. It was a long, difficult, painful and very costly effort, but we know it happened and we know it succeeded. Hitler committed suicide on April 30, 1945, and the Third Reich surrendered on May 8, 1945.
There will be appropriate ceremonies tomorrow, attended by the appropriate presidents and prime ministers, who will say and do the appropriate things. I could cite various statistics which would make the massive event more real, but instead I will use counterfactualism and suggest the best way to explain the importance of Operation Overlord is to imagine it never happened or that it did happen and failed. The British On-line Dictionary defines counterfactualism as “expressing what has not happened but could, would, or might under differing conditions.”
Several years ago, HBO aired a made-for-TV movie called “Fatherland.” It was based on a novel by the same title by Robert Harris. The time was April 1964 and the occasion was Hitler’s 75th birthday. Joseph P. Kennedy Sr. was president of the United States and was arriving in Berlin for a state visit. The D-Day invasion had occurred but failed, and a disgraced Churchill had been forced into exile in Canada.
The war between the United States and Japan in the Pacific had run its course much like it actually did and ended with an American victory. The United States had withdrawn from Europe to concentrate on its war with Japan, thereby leaving Germany able to concentrate on its war with the Soviet Union which was still underway. The Holocaust had not yet been discovered, but word about it was leaking out. The story is loaded with the dreary dystopianism of a Nazi totalitarian police state.
Another counterfactual novel presents an even worse scenario. “The Man in the High Castle” is an Amazon Prime television series based on the novel by Philip K. Dick. World War II ended in 1947 with victory by the Axis powers. President Roosevelt was assassinated, Germany dropped an atomic bomb on Washington, D.C., and the United States was divided into two large and one small occupation zones. The eastern is called the Nazi American Reich, the western the Japanese Pacific States, and a smaller buffer zone lies between them.
Their German and Japanese masters display the same respect for the human dignity of their American captives that their predecessors displayed at Bataan, Auschwitz and elsewhere. The “Final Solution” proceeds until all Jewish and noncompliant people are exterminated; then they turn to the next group of undesirables, and so forth.
My purpose here is not to advertise dystopian novels, but to make the point that this is not far-fetched science fiction. This could have happened. The Allied powers did not win because their victory was assured or predestined.
The D-Day landings did not have to happen. Germany had not attacked America. As Lincoln said, “One war at a time.” Neither did they have to succeed. But they did happen and they did succeed. Why?
I believe five factors answer this question. First, mistakes by the Axis powers. The Japanese decision to attack Pearl Harbor, Hitler’s decisions to invade the Soviet Union and declare war on the United States, plus other serious mistakes, sealed their doom. Second, our vast resources of men and materiel enabled us to become the “arsenal of democracy” and fight a three-front war successfully.
Third, the grit and determination of the people who did it, including the British and their Commonwealth, from the lowest to highest. The leadership had been trained in World War I and had no delusions about war: Churchill, Roosevelt, Truman, Marshall, MacArthur, Eisenhower, Patton, Bradley, Nimitz, etc. Add the thousands who died and were wounded and maimed, those Tom Brokaw rightly called “the Greatest Generation.” Spending time on the American Battle Monuments Commission website (www.abmc.gov) helps convey the magnitude of their sacrifice.
Fourth, our values. Americans don’t fight and die for a Reich or a Fuehrer, for “lebensraum,” for an Emperor or to wipe out whole races of people. They fight and die for the values proclaimed in the Declaration of Independence: they want to live free and govern themselves, and they want others to enjoy the same.
Fifth, the favor of Divine Providence. On June 28, 1787, in the Constitutional Convention Benjamin Franklin said: “I have lived … a long time and the longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth – that God governs in the affairs of men. … We have been assured … in the sacred writings that ‘except the Lord build they labor in vain that build it.’ I firmly believe this; and I also believe that without his concurring aid we shall succeed in this political building no better than the Builders of Babel …” Franklin was right. Our cause was just and our effort was blessed. Operation Overlord succeeded and, with the help of the Soviet Union in the east, the Third Reich was wiped off the face of the earth.
Winfield H. Rose taught political science at Murray State University for 39 years and is now retired. He is active in the Calloway County GOP, but speaks here as an individual and not as a representative of either of these organizations.
Editor’s Note: Opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect the editorial opinion of the Murray Ledger & Times.