Friday, June 06, 2014

It Was 70 Years Ago Today

Among the fat, soft subjects of yet another empire in its twilight, contemplating the mighty deeds of an impossible long-ago:

Every now and then I’m sobered by the knowledge that I was born 18 years after the end of World War II. Not even two decades since people with names like Hitler, Stalin, Roosevelt, Churchill, and Truman took their breakfasts and went about their days rearranging the face of modern civilization.

Now it’s 70 years to the day since the most balls-out audacious invasion ever. Keep in mind it was still a very long year after D-Day until the Germans surrendered. Even so, we were fortunate that Hitler had a quack doctor shooting him up with speed and causing him to lose touch with reality. If Hitler had been firing on all cylinders and was shrewd enough to let his generals do some planning, the war could as easily have gone the other way.

Even with Hitler’s declining physical and mental health, it still took mad tenacity to breach his Fortress Europe. Keep in mind that, amid all the silly cartoons and memes and making fun of his mustache and salute, Adolf Hitler, a former homeless wannabe art student, OWNED continental Europe. All of it. For years. (Franco in Spain owed his job to the Luftwaffe. Mussolini in Italy was like Hitler’s goofy sidekick.) The last person to even come close to pulling off such a thing was Napoleon, over 200 years ago. No one’s done it since, and likely never will.

It was a serious double-dog dare to take it back. Eisenhower and his planners for Operation Overlord (as D-Day was formally known) literally threw bodies at the German machine guns along the Normandy coast. Some guys who jumped off those transports did so in water that was way too deep. They had 50 pounds or more strapped to their backs, so down they went.
Unless cold, chest-deep seawater and hot machine gun fire in your face are on tap for your breakfast, fuck you and your complaining about your morning.

James Doohan, the guy who played the original Scotty on the only Star Trek that mattered, was getting his finger blown off on one part of the coast 70 years ago today. J.D. Salinger supposedly waded ashore into the gunfire with drafts of The Catcher in the Rye stuffed into his uniform. And then there were those thousands of young men, no-names from nowhere, some of whom had lied about their ages to get off the goddamn farm and be a part of Something Big. Those who caught bullets and passed into oblivion. For freedom. Or something.

Then there were the paratroopers, so many paratroopers jumping into the darkness, many shot dead before they even reached the ground. Imagine falling through the pre-dawn dark, you can’t even see the ground rushing towards you save for the muzzle flashes of hostile fire. Even if you make it all the way down without getting hit, you’re going to be fighting for your life on enemy soil as soon as you touch earth. Pray you don’t twist an ankle when you do.

I’m hardly scratching the surface of the violence thousands upon thousands of men inflicted upon one another over the course of so many miles. Genghis Khan would be green with envy for the scale of mayhem inflicted that day.

Like walking on the moon, this is one of those things that, for all our technology and available cannon fodder manpower, we could never do again. (In this case, satellite technology also makes impossible the element of surprise that was necessary to the operation.) This is a good thing. I count it one of the great fortunes in my life that I haven’t had to fight in a war, or suffer the consequences of an invasion. Most people don’t appreciate what a blessing that is. Some would say it’s good they don’t have to think about it at all, that that’s what all those young men died for. People shouldn’t have to know how bad it can all get.

However you look at it, it hardly matters. Seven decades later, in A.D. 2014 we take for granted that our government collects data on us—gotta keep us safe from the terrorists, don’t cha know! Everyone knows the humiliating procedures the surly TSA goons put us through at the airport don’t do the job but we put up with them anyway, because whaddya gonna do? We call torture “enhanced interrogation” and practice it as a matter of course. Our local police departments have more ammo, armor, and warfighting equipment than entire divisions of the Allied armies—to fight whom? Enemy paratroopers? Right.

Seventy years ago today thousands of Allied troops flung themselves at coastal France to make the world safe for McCarthyism, Vietnam, the Kent State Massacre, COINTELPRO, the War on Drugs, the housing bubble, various Wall Street swindles—and let’s Never Forget™ the nation’s newspapers and media lying about the “threat” Saddamn Hussein, an unsavory former ally (e.g., Stalin) posed so our owners leaders could get a decade-long war and another 4,500 Americans dead for nothing...of course, in 1944, it was that, or let the Russians finish off Hitler. 

Like everything else, it seemed like a good idea at the time. Hell, it was all we could do at the time. Raise a glass. What else can you do now?