[Note: This is an updating of a post originally written on 6 June 2012.]
Omaha Beach, Normandy, 6 June 1944
Today is the 71st anniversary of D-Day, the Allied amphibious landing of 83,115 men of the British Second Army and some 73,000 men of the American First Army on Sword, Juno, Gold, Utah, and Omaha Beaches in Normandy, whose success proved to be the decisive blow leveled against the forces of Hitler's Third Reich, guaranteeing Germany's ultimate surrender eleven months later.
Operation Neptune, the greatest amphibious assault in the annals of military history, was a tactical tour de force, whose very precarious launching in the face of the always-dicey weather of the English Channel tempts the Calvinist in me to see the directly causal hand of the all-sovereign God. Its success forever guaranteed the reputations of its Supreme Commander, General Dwight D. Eisenhower, and commander of ground forces, Field Marshal Sir Bernard Montgomery (of El Alamein fame). More importantly, the success of this operation, as Winston Churchill rightly noted, was crucial to the preservation of Western (he said "Christian," but I digress) civilization against the depredations of a barbarism worthy of the Huns and Visigoths of old.
My own connection with D-Day comes through my late, lamented Uncle Norman Forster, who served in the Royal Navy in one of the more than 1200 war ships that supported the landings that day. It is one of the things for which I am most proud of him. For, despite my pacifist tendencies and general anti-war sentiment, I truly believe Churchill was right in this case. Indeed, it is World War II, more than anything else, that has instilled in me the belief that so-called "just wars" do exist, no matter how rare and subject to unjust prosecution (case[s] in point: the bombings of Dresden and [perhaps] Hiroshima). The sheer scope of Hitler's power and the worldwide threat he posed render silly — and offensive — putative comparisons with such petty tyrants as Saddam Hussein and terrorist masterminds like Osama bin Laden (of course, the politicians who invoke such comparisons know this as well; if not, they are intellectually unqualified for office).
As the ranks of those who are old enough to remember that day, let alone those who actually served, decrease by the day, the tendency will be to let the memory recede into the mists of time and dry, dusty history textbooks. But we must never forget, both in honor of the thousands who served and the scores who paid the ultimate price with their lives. And let us always remember that war, if fought justly, must never be engaged in the service of imperial ambitions or economic hegemony, but as the only viable defense of fundamental human rights and national sovereignty, in the hope of ultimately reintegrating the aggressive parties into the world community, not least for the benefits of their own citizens.
Scottish Piper Bill Millin storming Sword Beach with
the Commandos of 1st Special Service Brigade,
British Second Army, 6 June 1944