“Never forget why they were there, especially the more than 2,500 Americans who died,most on Omaha Beach.
They were there because during the Thirties the Western democracies had abdicated their moral and cultural obligation to defend freedom and fight tyranny. They decided that the way to deter aggressors such as Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini and the leaders of imperial Japan was to appease rather than oppose them — or to harass them with economic sanctions, or to retreat, as the United States did, into a hopeful neutralism until it was almost too late.
So there’s a sick and savage irony in the fact that Vladimir Putin will be there today in Normandy in celebration alongside Barack Obama and European leaders, who seem resigned to follow the same disastrous course that took 73,000 Americans dying and fighting in Normandy, alongside soldiers from eleven other countries, to help set right.
Never forget also that the country they landed to liberate – France — had been Europe’s biggest democracy and its major military power in 1939. Then catastrophically it found itself a year later enslaved in body and spirit: overwhelmed by an enemy whose strength it had underestimated and betrayed by an intelligentsia that considered democracy and freedom frauds not worth dying for and that chose to back the stronger horses — Hitler and his ally Stalin — instead.
Never forget the enormous risks that were taken landing 160,000 Allied soldiers and 24,000 airborne troops in Normandy, risks so great Eisenhower wrote out a letter of resignation in advance, taking the blame in case everything went wrong. If a certain German Panzer division had been parked a little closer to the beaches; or if Hitler had taken news of the attack a little more seriously a few hours earlier; or if a 1944-style Edward Snowden had decided it was his duty to leak Overlord to the Nazis, it might be remembered as one of history’s greatest blunders, instead of one of its great triumphs.
And never forget that in 1944 we had a president who, for all his flaws, was up to the momentousness of the moment, Franklin D. Roosevelt.
As the British philosopher Isaiah Berlin wrote after the war, Roosevelt “was ignorant, unscrupulous, and irresponsible,” but
he was absolutely fearless . . . . He was one of the few statesmen in the 20th or any other century who seemed to have no fear at all of the future. He looked upon the future with a calm eye, as if to say, ‘Let it come, whatever it may be, it will all be grist in our great mill’ — meaning, America’s mill.
In a despondent world . . . he believed in his own ability, as long as he was at the controls, to stem this terrible tide. He had all the character and energy and skill of the dictators, [but] he was on our side.
Most people today don’t feel that Barack Obama is on our side.
We sense he’s incapable of doing what Roosevelt did, of loving his country so much that he was willing to run great risks in order to advance its cause, to free others from a new Dark Age — and protect our own liberty in the process.
Instead, today we feel those dark shadows growing. We feel as men and women of Isaiah Berlin’s generation did in the Thirties, that we are fast becoming again “a despondent world which appeared divided between wicked and fatally efficient fanatics marching to destroy, and bewildered populations on the run.”
That’s why we should never forget D-Day. To remind us more than ever that it is possible to turn the terrible tide and for freedom to win.”