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Learning the Right Lessons from D-Day

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The memorialization of D-Day has conferred upon this day a special place in American history and even pop culture , and has literally generated a cottage industry of hundreds of books, articles and films . Little wonder then that today, the chattering class hordes from big U.S. media outlets have descended upon France, joining the politicians to offer their fevered intonations of what the day was all about – and, more importantly to them, what it means now. Self-anointed experts from Hollywood and the Beltway/Manhattan ruling class such as the nauseating Joe Scarborough of MSNBC have been filing reports all week as to how we should think of D-Day, while echoing the pronouncement of leftist historian Stephen Ambrose that D-Day was the climactic battle of World War II.

To be sure, the sacrifices of the dead and maimed on that day are worthy of a reverent respect, but for anyone willing to do even a modicum of historical study, this is a patently stupid assertion in light of Stalingrad, Kursk, or even the destruction of Japanese naval power at Leyte Gulf. Or to say it differently, had D-Day not even occurred, and instead the western allies attacked through Italy and the Balkans as the British war leader and prime minister Winston Churchill preferred, the war would still have been won, and perhaps to better advantage for the western allies.

So what then are we to make of D-Day? On this solemn day of remembrance for American war-dead and the sacrifices of all involved, it’s past time to move beyond the trite banalities of the likes of Tom Brokaw and Martha MacCallum, and enunciate the real lessons of D-Day, thinking anew about its reverberations for the 21st century. It’s an important day to reflect upon, but not for the reasons expressed by the Beltway elite, as shown below.

The Breadth and Scope of Operations on June 6, 1944

While British and Canadian forces played important parts in the Normandy landings, and troops from Australia, Belgium, Czechoslovakia, France, Greece, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway and Poland also took part, it was primarily an American-led undertaking in terms of manpower, materiel, and funding. It was indeed a gargantuan operation: 11,590 allied aircraft flew 14,674 sorties on D-Day, of which 127 planes were lost. The sea-going armada was comprised of 1,213 combat ships, 4,126 landing craft, 736 support ships, and 864 merchant vessels. By the end of June 11 (D+5), 326,547 troops, 54,186 vehicles and 104,428 tons of supplies had come ashore.

Shortly after midnight on June 6, some 2,395 aircraft and 867 gliders delivered two airborne divisions totaling 24,000 paratroops and glider-borne assets, dropping them into points along the targeted battlefront, coordinating where able with French Resistance fighters who worked to incapacitate the phone system, rail lines, and otherwise disrupt the anticipated German counter-attack and advance of reserves. By the end of the day on June 6, 156,000 allied troops were dug in across a 50-mile front along the French coastline that was not consolidated for a week.

For the allies, it began the larger Battle of Normandy that entailed some 209,000 casualties in all, with 53,000 killed in action; more than 9,000 Americans are buried at the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial at Colleville-sur-Mer. On that first day alone there were approximately 10,000 allied casualties and over 4,400 killed (of which at least 2,500 were Americans), while a flotilla of sixty U.S. Coast Guard cutters , operating farther from American shores than ever before, plucked over 1,400 troops from the sea off of all five landing beaches.

Naval losses were lighter than anticipated but included Norwegian and U.S. Navy destroyers, and one U.S. sub chaser along with several landing craft. While German casualties were fewer than the allies and many aspects of the operation went wrong, thus leading to a delayed breakout (e.g., the strategic hub of Caen, just 15 miles inland due south from the Normandy coastline, was not fully captured until July 19 as opposed to the war-plan aim of the first few days), nonetheless the operation must be considered a success in military terms, as it opened a long-awaited western front that would hasten the doom of the German Reich.

The Correct Lessons of D-Day for Today

Thus the invasion is rightly remembered as the huge and complex undertaking that it was, and one can only salute the dead and wounded, the suffering and sacrifice. But 75 years on, the Hollywood/Beltway ruling class simpletons’ thesis, that D-Day marks “the anniversary of when freedom and democracy triumphed over tyranny and repression,” must be laid to rest as the empty jingoistic sloganeering and vapid nonsense that it is. A fuller context reveals a more searing truth about D-Day, but one best heeded so as to properly honor those who died then: it was an unnecessary battle in what no less than Sir Winston Churchill himself called an “unnecessary war.” A largely overlooked but nonetheless deep body of scholarship about World War II reveals the following fact-based postulates relating to D-Day in the context of the broader conflict that began in 1939, and in turn highlights the best way to think about the historic Normandy invasion:

  • World War II was begotten from the aftermath of World War I, itself an unnecessary war. Historian Jim Powell of the Cato Institute argues convincingly that had Woodrow Wilson not intervened in World War I, completely needlessly, Wilson would not therefore have engineered some $325 million in aid credits (more than $6.5 billion in today’s terms) to Alexander Kerensky’s Provisional Government in Russia in the spring of 1917. This financial aid combined with help from other western powers was offered with one proviso: Russia must stay in the war against Germany. Wilson did not want the Germans to make peace on their eastern front, and then transfer up to five million troops to face the newly-arriving Americans in Italy, France, and Belgium.
  • But had the Germans been able to conclude an early peace with Kerensky following the abdication of Czar Nicholas II from the Russian throne on March 15, 1917, they’d have seen no need to allow Vladimir Lenin to travel through German lines to return to Petrograd from Switzerland one month later; indeed the arrival of Lenin would have, from their viewpoint, been counterproductive once peace with Kerensky was assured. Absent Lenin, had Kerensky offered the Russian people immediate cessation of warfare along with his intended liberalizing reforms, the Bolshevik Revolution might not have ensued. No Lenin and the failure of Bolshevism imply no Stalin.
  • In turn, stronger German forces in the west in 1918, absent American combat power, would have forced British, French and Italian capitulation more on German terms. This implies no onerous Versailles Treaty (that the great British economist John Maynard Keynes predicted would mean another war in 20 years, the most prescient call of his career), and no Versailles implies no collapse of German civil society and hyperinflation in 1923. No destruction of German liberalism in the 1920s, mutatis mutandis, implies no Hitler, no depression in Europe in the 1920s-30s, and hence no spread of Communist movements. And without Hitler and Stalin, any German-Russian conflict, had it happened at all, would likely not have drawn in other powers after 1939, and been far less burdensome to the world. As an aside, had the European powers not been over-run in 1940, their imperial holdings in Southeast Asia could have been better defended, acting as a check on expansionist Japanese designs.

Seen in this light, the D-Day invasion and American campaign across western Europe was not a romantic or heroic adventure in “saving the free world,” as the insufferable Tom Hanks puts it. Quite the contrary, the American efforts in western Europe during World War II bolstered a morally repugnant Stalinism, and paved the way for 45 years of Soviet brutality and domination of central and eastern Europe, for the enslavement of 200 million people with its concomitant misery and poverty (and, as an aside, the American defeat of Japan paved the way for Maoism in China and 35 million murders there). Indeed thanks directly to American involvement in World War II, by the summer of 1945 the Red Army was established all the way to the gates of Lübeck, in Thuringia, along the Elbe deep in the heart of Europe, at Petsamo, as well as in Manchuria, the Korean Peninsula, and the Kurile Islands. 

In the 1964 anti-war film The Americanization of Emily, James Garner plays an American naval officer who presumably was the first to die on D-Day at Omaha Beach. Prior to the invasion he famously tells his English love interest (Julie Andrews) that his brother had died at Anzio, and that we Americans “perpetuate war by exalting its sacrifices.” It’s an uncomfortable thought, and seemingly unpatriotic at first utterance. Yet there’s a devastatingly trenchant honesty in this assertion, and it’s been ratified as accurate over time by the endless apologias on behalf of the deeply corrupt (and, unfortunately, gigantic) Military-Industrial- Congressional Complex [“MICC”] inside the Beltway of today.

In fact, the U.S. today is responsible for nearly 40% of total global armaments spending, and spends more than the next 7 countries combined, in a perpetual process U.S. Marine Major General Smedley Butler famously called a profiteering racket . Hence today as always, the American people are receiving a distorted view of D-Day, with no broader fundamental context supplied, including how utterly unnecessary and even superfluous the whole project was.

This hard and uncomfortable truth in no way detracts from the heroism of American and allied warfighters who fought and died that day, or the integrity of their own individual efforts. It is however a condemnation of corrupt politicians who sent and continue to send our men into harm’s way on days such as June 6, 1944, and who too often drag their country into needless wars, most always fought on behalf of narrow special interests related to the MICC that have nothing to do with national security or broader national interests. Across American history, this superfluity in kinetic combat has happened again and again, and the American people are told endless falsehoods [1] in the run-up to the war, [2] again during the conflict, and [3] once again after hostilities end (that is, perpetual lying of politicians occurs before, during, and after all conflicts), as to how necessary (and successful!) the war will be or was. But in spite of the pronouncements of the MICC or career pols inside the Beltway, as per the Americans’ recent decades of war-fighting in Muslim lands – that according to Brown University researchers has cost American taxpayers $7 trillion – the U.S. is undeniably less safe, less free, and poorer than before all this war-fighting.

The only way to end this corruption in the future is to come to an honest assessment of past and present, and stop adhering to the manifest falsehoods of our political class, let alone the worthless feel-good ahistorical drivel of babbling fools on MSNBC, or from Hollywood.

To the Americans who died 75 years ago today, we end by saying, only the dead have seen the end of war. But may your sacrifices yet be redeemed in an American empire of liberty toward which we move, unbowed and determined.

Note: The views expressed on Mises.org are not necessarily those of the Mises Institute.
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