The victorious dead

Seventy years ago today, over a million men stormed the shores of the French coast at Normandy, on a day that has since gone down in history as the most important offensive action of World War II. The Nazis knew what was coming and so had left quite a few nasty surprises for the landing troops on the beaches. Men fought and bled and died in their thousands that day to free an entire continent from the grip of fascist tyranny. Eventually, through superior planning, tactical surprise, and sheer bloody-minded determination, the Allies pushed through and broke the Nazi lines in several key places. After that, it was, at least on paper, just a matter of time before Germany would be crushed between the hammer of the Allied invasions from France and Italy, and the anvil of the Soviet advance through the East.

Or so we have been taught, for the last three generations.

What most people don't realise is that the offensive could easily have failed. That it didn't is a testament to superior planning, logistics, a series of elaborate and difficult deception manoeuvres that took place before the landings began, and the extraordinary grit and determination of those who fought on, above, and beyond the deadly sands of Normandy.

The men who fought on those beaches were from an altogether different time. They are known today as the Greatest Generation for a reason. They picked up arms when they were called, in their millions; they fought on foreign shores for a cause that they didn't necessarily agree with, or even understand. They died in their tens of thousands to destroy an evil that no one saw for what it was until after the war was done and the horrors of the death camps of Auschwitz and Treblinka and Bergen-Belsen were uncovered.

They fought nonetheless. They fought because they had to. They fought because it was right.

And when the war was over, they laid down their arms, put away their medals, and stoically did everything they could to pick up the pieces of the lives that had been shattered by war and death.

These were not the soft man-boys of today, privileged and narcissistic and whiny like the "virgin killer", Elliot Rodgers. These were not trigger-happy psychopaths like Jared Loughner, killing because they enjoyed it. These were just ordinary men, forced to act in an extraordinary time.

These were men who held themselves accountable for what they had to do. For example, when Gen. Eisenhower was planning for the D-Day invasion, he penned a short, 66-word speech to be used in case the invasion was bogged down and failed. He knew what was at stake- the Churchill government would be toppled, he would lose his position as Supreme Allied Commander, and the morale of the Allied forces would be shattered, perhaps irretrievably.

In that speech, Gen. Eisenhower didn't dodge or blame any unknown factors in case his brainchild failed. He would take full responsibility upon himself for the failure of OVERLORD, falling metaphorically upon his own sword.

In other words, he would do what a man must do in the face of failure: take responsibility, and face up to the consequences of his decisions.

On this day, spare a moment to remember the Greatest Generation. Remember what they fought and died for. Remember what made them great.

HAIL the victorious dead!


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