Saturday, June 6, 2009

D-Day


Normandy, June 6, 1944.

"If we do not succeed in our mission to close the seas to the Allies, or in the first 48 hours, to throw them back, their invasion will be successful ...
In the absence of strategic reserves and due to the total inadequacy of our navy and of our air force we will have lost the war."


Fieldmarshal Erwin Rommel

Operation Overlord was the turning point of War World II. Nazi Germany could have sustained the Eastern front losses due to the immense territory Soviets had to cover to get to Berlin. The outcome of the war in the East was not as clear as it seems today, and one can only imagine the cost of even another year of war beyond May 8, 1945 (VE Day). Stalin knew this very well and pressed the Western Allies to invade Europe as soon as November 1943, when he met with Roosevelt and Churchill in Tehran (yes, in Iran). By the end of the war, Germany had lost 4,300,000 men in the Eastern front, but the Soviet losses were 10,600,000 men. To put things in perspective, the combined American and British losses in WWII were 668,300 men in ALL theatres. Yet it was on the beaches of Normandy that the tide of war was changed. On that day alone, 2499 American and 1915 men from other Allied nations died, a total of 4414 dead, according to the US National D-Day Memorial Foundation (much higher than the traditional figure of 2500 dead).

Today we argue over wars of necessity and wars of choice. On June 6, 1944, there was no such argument. War was fought to preserve freedom, and the price was very high. One can debate the strategies of those days, how effective and necessary were they and how many of those strategies translate to war crimes. Such debate is today highlighted by the wars raging in Iraq and Afghanistan, how they came to be and it's cost...
The young men that landed in Normandy and lost their lives, 65 years ago today, died for freedom. I owe them my freedom today, as an European, as much as my parents did then. Can we say the same about the young men and women dying in Iraq and Afghanistan? During Operation Overlord, an estimated 15,000 to 20,000 French civilians were killed, mainly as a result of Allied bombing. We owe them too, for their sacrifice. How many Iraqi and Afghanistan civilians were killed so far in war operations and what was the purpose of those operations? Based on the lowest credible estimates, over 700,000. The purpose of the operations responsible for their deaths is ultimately this: to prevent terrorist attacks against the United States and it's Western allies. Such is the legacy of the "War on Terror".

A soldier is not a policy maker. A soldier's service, however, reflects the policies of the country he or she serves. We can be certain that the vast majority of the German soldiers in Nazi Germany were fighting for their country just as their enemies, yet their service will forever be tainted by the policies it served. It is a tragedy that so many Germans died for such distorted values and horrifying policies, defined by the Nazi ideology and government, and an even greater tragedy that so many people were killed because of it. Such is the nature of war, and such is the fate of soldiers. Can we imagine the feelings of the grandsons and granddaughters of the German soldiers that died in World War II? What do they owe them? What did they die for?

American and European soldiers are at war as allies once more. They are fighting at their governments bidding to protect their countries once more. Yet, there is much discomfort about the reasons that lead to these wars and about their objectives. The complexity of today's threats makes us question not only the way these wars are being fought but their need as well. World War II was the last conflict, if not the only one, from which the United States gained immense gratitude and respect. The sacrifice of the more than 400,000 American soldiers killed in World War II gave millions of people all over the world a future free from tyranny. This is not open to discussion. It is a fact. We know what we owe them and what they died for. And today we honor them, and all those who with them fought and died for the same purpose.
May we never forget the cost of freedom and may the fallen in the beaches of Normandy remind us the meaning of sacrifice and service. To fall for less is a tragic waste and, at best, a sad mistake.


(...)
Finally, the United States will use this moment of opportunity to extend the benefits of freedom across the globe. We will actively work to bring the hope of democracy, development, free markets, and free trade to every corner of the world.
(...)

The National Security Strategy of the United States - New York Times, 20 September 2002

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