Today is the 77th anniversary of an incredible amphibious invasion by Allied forces of the Normandy, France beaches that shattered the invincibility of the Third Reich, ruthlessly led by Adolph Hitler, and led to eventual victory in Europe.
D-Day, June 6, 1944, is a permanent chapter in any book about World War II and the cause of freedom waged against despotism and fascism. It was a bold action that changed the direction of a vicious war.
D-Day marks a time when Americans felt optimistic, proud and confident. Anything seemed possible when prospects for a triumph against acolytes of ethnic destruction were awfully bleak at times.
We urgently need other D-Days, now more than ever. We crave a coalition of diverse groups willing to pull together to attack overwhelmingly difficult and complicated challenges. We have scant time to occupy hardened concrete positions and refuse to tackle what ails us.
We have many internal battles to fight. Many have festered for hundreds of years. Years and years of neglect and denial have created what some would characterize as intractable problems. Optimism is discounted.
Hope is still alive.
When American troops stormed the Normandy beaches, particularly Bloody Omaha Beach (Vierville-sur-Mer), they faced an enemy with the distinct tactical advantage of cliff-high battlements. Though aided by the element of surprise, our soldiers faced withering and deadly firepower from the bluffs overlooking what had been a serene swatch of beach.
Our troops—many shocked by the unrelenting fire rained down on them—struggled to capture the beach, climb the bluffs and overcome a stubborn enemy. And so they did, surrounded by dead and maimed buddies.
In the spirit of D-Day, we can declare that we will end racism; moderate economic inequality; elevate our better angels over rampant hatred; end political polarization; combat right-wing extremism anti-Semitism and anti-Asianism; dilute voter suppression and stanch disabling global warming.
We must do all of this with a sense of urgency that is sorely lacking in our “Ununited States.”
We could start with mandatory national service to spread the gospel of service greater than self, to create a structure that brings men and women from all the “castes” into projects that benefit our nation and focus on merit, not entitlement.
We can place a national priority on listening and empathy. Sound like a goody-two-shoes proposal that invites ridicule and cynicism? Probably, but necessary.
But what characterizes our country now more than anything else but rancor toward, and distrust of each other and our institutions? We disparage government, the church, higher education, the police and the justice system.
President Dwight D. Eisenhower, formerly the Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces that assaulted the Normandy coast, said:
“The world of ours…must avoid becoming a community of dreadful hate and distrust, but be, instead, a proud confederation of mutual trust and respect.”
Unfortunately, cynicism has become our national pastime.
Some ill-informed people have questioned our voting system in the face of little or no evidence of fraud. They are encouraged by our unhinged ex-president. Many of the irresponsible distrusters attacked the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 at the urging of the raging president.
Do we simply surrender to the forces of division and dissonance?
Do we accept that we cannot overcome the weapons of divisiveness and disdain sowed to achieve power and elected office?
Do we give up and accept the end of American exceptionalism and heightened sense of morality and decency?
Or do we muster our best selves and applaud selflessness—instead of paying homage to those who care little about our fragile democracy—and commend harmony and unity?
If we view the “D” as meaning “deadline” and set deliberately strict dates of completion, then maybe we can save ourselves short of another disastrous civil war. We could reverse course and seek to re-establish a country that is respected, not resented in our turbulent world.
Nazi Germany wreaked havoc for 12 years. Its despicable concentration camps subjected humanity to murder and degradation. It had to be defeated. Our nation and allies united to do just that.
We have a crisis of credibility. We are content with a raging stock market and a sickly human condition. While Covid has subsided, helplessness in our population has increased.
We should celebrate D-Day with awe and gratitude. We vanquished evil such as the world had never witnessed. We saved freedom and democracy. We used our military and moral power to restore sanity to the Western World.
We must defeat the enemy. Our opponent is ourselves.
We must see a person with brown or black skin and see nothing different. We must see people in medical service jobs and pay them more as a sign of their importance to us during Covid and domestic crises. We must see teachers struggling against low pay and classes too large and pay and praise them more.
We must see the increased severity of weather events and decide we are going to use renewable energy and reduce stifling carbon emission.
We must act now. We face horrible consequences if we do nothing.
D-Days need not be military operations. They can be applicable to problems that affect our daily lives. They can propel us to the greatness that we once treasured.
Columnist Howard Freedlander retired in 2011 as Deputy State Treasurer of the State of Maryland. Previously, he was the executive officer of the Maryland National Guard. He also served as community editor for Chesapeake Publishing, lastly at the Queen Anne’s Record-Observer. In retirement, Howard serves on the boards of several non-profits on the Eastern Shore, Annapolis and Philadelphia.