As a former Marine and avid military historian I enjoy thinking about the way the public views historical events, what we might learn from them, and what lessons they might contain for the future. Each of these is fraught with difficulty, as people’s background, bias, and judgment might cloud their analysis. That being said, it is worth taking a moment on this day, in the shadow of numerous terrorist attacks, rising nuclear powers like Iran and North Korea, and continuing strategic threats around the world, to wonder about the lessons of D-Day.
Military historian Victor David Hanson wondered if the Xbox generation could storm the beaches of Normandy like their grandparents did. With tweets that massacre the English language and an unhealthy obsession with the Kardashians, those fears seem grounded. But historical memory of the current generation often looks on the past with rose-colored glasses while thinking that their young people are uniquely positioned to herald the end of the world. The current soldiers serving around the globe have shown they are capable of difficult feats and great deeds to the point that Americans shouldn’t compare their soldiers to the greatest generation and fear.
The matters of policy are different. The list of terror attacks goes on and on, yet there is little actual discussion of solid measures to prevent these attacks. These attacks happen with such frequency while the debates over gun control or xenophobia have a Ground Hog Day-like repetition; I’ve thought about simply recycling old pieces about the need for productive dialogue.
Because of political correctness many politicians often fear instituting measures that will target likely-terrorist groups. When President Trump attempted strict vetting of people coming from certain countries he was accused of a “Muslim” ban. The politicians squabble and try to score short-term political points against each other while the problem on the border remains unsolved. British politicians where there have been so many recent attacks debate the number of police on the streets while anybody who advocates anti-extremist measures is called a bigot.
Trump makes a valid point about the need for extreme vetting of immigrants, and most of the media would rather cover his Twitter feud with the London mayor. In short, I’m extremely concerned that the nations which launched the D-Day invasion, Britain, Canada, and America, no longer have the political will to make and execute very hard decisions. Eisenhower was prepared to accept blame for the slaughter of thousands of soldiers, while modern politicians (except for Trump) flinch as if being called a bad name.
D-Day is an important time to honor those from the past who bravely fought for freedom. But it can also be a time to assess and reflect on the lessons it might hold. Our soldiers remain brave, but the politicians who formulate anti-terrorism policies are much less so.