D-Day + 20. Years, that is. CBS ran a one-hour special hosted by former President Dwight D. Eisenhower. It would be his last trip to the Normandy beaches that his troops captured at such terrible cost. Only one memory lingers: Ike waved his hand over a big stretch of beach. “Here, you could hardly find sand to walk on for the American dead.”
D-Day + 40. President Ronald Reagan addressed veterans of the invasion at the place where it began. He spoke of the valor of the Rangers, boys mostly, who scaled the cliffs at Pointe du Hoc. There were 225 of them at dawn. The next day 90 were fit to bear arms. He asked them: “Why did you do it? What impelled you to put aside the instinct for self-preservation and risk your lives to take these cliffs? What inspired all the men of the armies that met here? We look at you and somehow we know the answer. It was faith and belief. It was loyalty and love.” His entire speech is still worth reading.
D-Day + 50. What I most clearly remember is a photo of our draft-dodging Philanderer-in-Chief walking along that beach, head down, looking thoughtful and contemplative as only the most brilliant and insightful of men can. One wag superimposed a thought bubble over his head: “I’m sure glad it wasn’t me over here getting my butt shot off.”
D-Day + 60. At Omaha Beach President George W. Bush quoted Gen. Omar Bradley: “Six hours after the landings, we held only 10 yards of beach.” He also quoted from the diary of a Dutch girl who would turn 15 only six days later. She greeted news of the invasion with these words: “It still seems too wonderful, like a fairy tale . . . . I may yet be able to go back to school in September or October.” She never made it back to school. Anne Frank died at Bergen Belsen on a date uncertain in early March 1945, barely two months before the Germans surrendered.
D-Day + 65. Their numbers are dwindling, but former Second Lieutenant Bob Dole was there. Our Apologist-in-Chief is concluding another triumphant tour, breast-beating and genuflecting all the way. He probably goes through kneepads faster than an NBA starter. But you’ve got to give the man credit. He never misses an opportunity to peddle his squishy pabulum, his deviant views of the world we live in, and his apparent desire to retire from office in 2017 to a rousing universal chorus of Kumbaya. “We live in a world of competing beliefs and claims about what is true. It’s a world of varied religions and cultures and forms of government . . . . The nations that joined together to defeat Hitler’s reich were not perfect. They made their share of mistakes, had not always agreed with one another on every issue. But whatever God we prayed to . . . we knew that the evil we faced had to be stopped.”
“[W]hatever God we prayed to . . . .” Now what do you suppose he could have meant by that? Whom do you think he was talking to in his uniquely reassuring and condescending tone? And while we’re at it, how did I — philistine that I must be — overlook for almost 63 years the indispensable contribution to the overthrow of tyranny by those of our brothers so deeply committed to freedom and equality, the Nations of Islam?
“[C]laims about what is true.” If he was only talking about determining the truths, if any there are, in organized religion I would agree with him. But do you have the same hunch I do? He’s talking moral equivalence here, the delusions fostered by John le Carre and his cohort: the KGB and the CIA are brothers under the skin. Strangling your daughter because she wants to divorce the husband you forced her to marry is alien to our own beliefs, to be sure, but it’s a cultural difference, you see. Slowly hacking off the head of a helpless hostage is not acceptable, but we’ve been guilty of our own provocations, right? Just take a look at those terrible photos from Abu Ghraib, where the minor delicts of three or four low-level borderline morons were used to justify claims that our entire effort in Iraq is morally corrupt. The truth, objective reality if you will, is something to be determined, not endlessly debated by those whose level of tolerance for “competing beliefs” borders on the suicidal.
Granted, D-Day observances are not an occasion for jingoistic nationalism as the effort involved several nations. It was truly an Allied effort. But it took more than blood, treasure, and guns to demolish Fortress Europa. An unshakable belief in the superiority of Western Civilization as defined by the best that the Judaeo-Christian tradition teaches us was essential. In the words of Winston Churchill, we had to recover our “moral health and martial vigour . . . . arise again and take our stand for freedom as in olden time.” It was a job for warriors sprung from freedom, not milquetoasts debating “what is true.” Obama’s speech was what one would expect from someone who is, in the words of a top advisor to Hillary Clinton, “not at his center fundamentally American in his thinking and in his values.”
Neither did our President cover himself with glory the day before, when he visited Buchenwald and said that it made him think of the “cruelty in ourselves.”
His obvious reference was to our country’s use of waterboarding and other interrogation techniques, which he courageously disavowed yet again for the umptyninth time in Cairo. Never mind that the Brooklyn Bridge is probably still standing and 10,000 rush-hour commuters are still alive because we waterboarded the right guy.
War scrapes men raw in ways beyond the physical. What is left when the millstone grinds away all pretense is what we are. I have served among young Americans at war and never saw a Vietnamese mistreated. Once I saw one spoken to harshly by a captain who decided that this 60-something-year-old man was a Viet Cong suspect. The captain was an idiot. None of us much liked the Vietnamese. It wasn’t merely because their culture is as alien to ours as one that might have evolved in the Alpha Centauri system. We were stuck there because of them. Yet instead of “the cruelty in ourselves,” I saw GIs toss extra C-rations to the Vietnamese who lined the roads during our mounted convoys; spare change given to the children of our hooch maids; random acts of simple kindness every day.
Many of us have seen the photo on the dustcover of Michael Yon’s Moment of Truth in Iraq. It gives us a more contemporary glimpse of “the cruelty in ourselves.” A U.S. Army major, under fire, is hustling an Iraqi baby girl badly wounded by a terrorist RPG to his medic. Despite his bravery the child died.
No one’s ever accused me of Pollyannaism but if I had to choose between the world views espoused by our posturing President or those of the Dutch girl who died of typhus at 15 in the hell of a Nazi concentration camp, I would choose Anne Frank’s.
One of her diary entries reads: “In spite of everything, I still believe that people are really good at heart.”