Certain marks in history are so important that men and women still talk about them thousands of years after the fact. The Ides of March, remembered now in no small part due to Shakespeare’s treatment of the subject, are still recalled even by those who have no more than a passing interest in the politics of dying Roman Republic. The year 1066, when Norman Duke William lead his army across the Channel and conquered. The story is as familiar as an old family friend to anyone who has studied English history at all. June 6, 1944 is another one of those marked dates in our story – when we committed to spend every ounce of blood and treasure of the English speaking peoples if need be to throw back the rising tide of darkness. I have little doubt that 1000 years from now, historians will view Eisenhower little different than William before him.
There are dates, though, that most people don’t remember. Most people don’t think about them at all, really. That last day before the Big Thing happened. The day before the Ides. The day before the Battle of Hastings. The day before Overlord.
It’s easy to think of our history as a foregone conclusion, that because it’s the way it happened that it’s the way it had to happen. Nothing is further from the truth, of course. The day before the Big Thing, is the day of uncertainty and of questioning whether all is ready or if anything else can be done. It’s a day where history hangs in the balance. I’m not bold enough to suggest that preparation has nothing to do with it, but I’ve also been around long enough to know that random chance has an oversized role to plan in all of our efforts.
Today is June 5th – the anniversary of Eisenhower’s great day of uncertainty. The day before he was the head of vast army sweeping its way across Fortress Europe. It’s a day that the vagaries of weather nearly halted the invasion that we now think of as inevitable. Studying what happens on these days before the Big Things in history is the real case study in determination, courage, and leadership.
At this very hour 72 years ago the English Channel between the south of England and the Normandy coast was churned by the largest naval armada ever assembled. From the massive battleships to the tiniest landing craft, these ships carried the flower of Allied youth – the best trained and equipped army that was ever sent to war. All these brave souls knew their mission and more importantly they knew that if they weren’t killed in the crossing, a few short hours later the ramps of their landing craft would drop and they would face an enemy who was entrenched on the high ground and who had years to prepare his defenses.
On beaches named Sword, Gold, Utah, Juno, and Omaha, those ramps dropped and soldiers bled and still they fought on to overwhelm the German defenders. They established a toehold and then a beachhead in Occupied Europe. Then they fought through another fifteen months as liberators rather than conquerors.
That’s what our grandparent’s or great-grandparent’s generation did to ensure freedom and liberty weren’t extinguished… So when a student today, tucked comfortably on a college campus, says they need a safe space or a trigger warning or protection against micro-aggression, honest to God I can’t for the life of me understand what their pansy asses are whining about.
If I’m rolling my eyes I can only imagine what their long ago counterparts crossing the last hundred yards of open water into the teeth of hell might think.
1. History. Throw the date June 6th out there and ask the average man in the street what the significance is, I’m willing to bet the dollar in my pocket that maybe one in ten could tell you that it’s the anniversary of the day America and Great Britain launched the liberation of continental Europe. I won’t even give you odds on them knowing that much of Italy had already been liberated by the time the Normandy landings took place. I’m a history guy, so the nitnoid facts and trivia have always been important to me, but I weep that for so many the pinnacle of American achievement is Keeping Up with the Kardashians and the vastness of our shopping malls.
2. Vaccinations. I’m not a parent. Baring some kind of catastrophic misfire on the range, I never will be. I intellectually understand that when it comes to issues of the health and welfare of their child, a parent is very nearly sovereign. However, in a world where polio, measles, and a host of other diseases that we collectively obliterated in the last century start popping up again, I’m forced to draw at least a tentative connection between those illnesses reemerging and the small but vocal group of parents who have decided that vaccines are bad. It just strikes me that as bad as the adverse reaction to a vaccine can be, getting the actual disease it prevents is quite probably worse. We take our lives in our hands every morning when we get out of bed… I just wish more people would realize that a risk assessment needs to account for both the probably of something happening as well as the severity of the negative impact if that thing does happen. Then again that assumes people operate from a place of reason. Fat chance of that happening any time soon.
3. Bergdahl. What he did or did not do while in captivity is a matter of open dispute. That’s fine. However, I tend to agree with General McChrystal, who stated it most clearly: “We don’t leave Americans behind. That’s unequivocal.” SGT Bergdahl is an American soldier. He was held by a foreign power and now he’s not. If there is legitimate evidence he violated his oath or otherwise broke the law, then by all means, drag him before a court martial and try the case. We don’t leave Americans behind. Period. That should be a sacred trust between the government and the people both in and out of uniform. There’s plenty of room for honest and frank discussion, but I have a hard time arguing that getting an American citizen back is ever the wrong thing to do. If he’s guilty, lock him away and lose the key, but if he’s innocent, thank the young man for his service and let him get on with his life.