t has been 65 years since the Allies began the invasion of Europe during WW-2, starting with perhaps the most famous battle in American history, the Battle of Normandy. D-Day. Immortalized by Steven Spielberg in Saving Private Ryan, this invasion opened up a second front against Hitler’s armies and was the beginning of the end of the bloodiest war in history.
There have been a number of stories this weekend about D-Day, and all of them uniformly repeat the same tiring and glorifying catchphrases: the liberation of Europe, defending liberty from dictators, and so on. It’s not that these slogans are wrong, it’s that they are true, but only up to a point, and it’s a tragedy that the press covers war with such a sentimental and almost worshipping voice.
There is another side of D-Day that rarely gets told. First of all, the liberation of Europe from the Nazi butchers, which was for six years waged with severe brutality and horror, was immediately handed over to Joseph Stalin’s butchers. Mass-murderer “Uncle Joe,” as FDR affectionately called him, and his future successors in the Kremlin would rule Eastern Europe with an iron fist. Stalin made Hitler look like a schoolboy, and the Soviets would proceed to starve, purge, tank-ify, ethnically cleanse, and murder 80 million people.
This is not downplaying the evilness of Hitler’s atrocities, just the point that war always has unexpected consequences. In this case, the U.S. and its Allies liberated Europe from a fascist dictator and replaced it with another, who after 40 years of a pointless tug-of-war with the U.S., wisely dismantled their empire (we could learn a lot from the wise Gorbachev and the Soviet situation of the late 1980s: broke, and bogged down in Afghanistan. Sound familiar?). We may have won WW2, but we definitely lost the peace.
Second of all, Normandy civilians also felt war’s unintended consequences. Laurence Vance has a great post about the effect D-Day had on French civilians:
And then there is the effect of the D-Day invasion on civilians. According to an article about Antony Beevor’s new book, D-Day, 20,000 French civilians were killed within three months of the D-Day landing. Some villages in Normandy only recently began having D-Day celebrations. What? How ungrateful these people were for the ‘hundreds of tons of bombs destroying entire cities and wiping out families.’ Or perhaps it was because of the ‘theft and looting of Normandy households and farmsteads by liberating soldiers’ that ‘began on June 6 and never stopped during the entire summer.’ Or perhaps it was the “3,500 rapes by American servicemen in France between June 1944 and the end of the war.
I am not suggesting that the 150,000 U.S., British, and Canadian troops who stormed Normandy, and the 10,000 who didn’t return, did not fight bravely and honorably. They epitomized those words, and there are countless stories that prove it. The point is that this “collateral damage” is rarely mentioned in the WW-2 idolizing press. We hear a little bit about Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but stories of civilian deaths are systematically ignored, from the thousands of German and Japanese civilian cities that lay in ashes after Allied planes were done with them to the over 100,000 deaths and 3 million casualties in our trilliion-dollar-desert-killing fields in Iraq.
The horrors of war, and especially modern warfare, were on display on D-Day, and we can only hope that there will never be another one.