Omaha Beach. Normandy, France

June 6, 1944

As we pour out of the LCVP landing craft into the chilly waters of the English Channel we don’t notice how the surf has churned into a red sea-foam from the blood of our comrades. The temperature isn’t on our minds either; we’re more worried about catching a bullet than catching a cold.

D-Day landing

U.S. Troops approaching the beach at Normandy (Photo courtesy of Bill Strain)

It’s good to be on our feet. It sure beats sitting huddled together with our heads down back in the boats. There the only thing to distract you from the sounds of explosions, plane engines roaring and machine gun fire bouncing off the boat is your own mind wondering how your helmet would hold up against a well placed round. At least off the boat we can fight back.

D-Day Invasion

A group of troops stepping off a Coast Guard landing craft approaching the beaches of Normandy (Photo courtesy of Robert F. Sargent)

We cross the beach line around noon. The fighting started at 4 a.m. The shore is covered with craters and debris, disembodied limbs and metal scraps, from constant shelling. Can’t see shit either with all the smoke and sand that’s in the air. Maybe we can’t see them, but we can hear the enemy barking commands and curses in German up ahead. Only thing to do now is watch our asses, throw grenades and squeeze the trigger till the smoke clears, reinforcements arrive and there are no more Germans left.

Back in New York, NBC correspondent Robert St. John reads news of the landing and remarks, “men and women of the United States, this is a momentous hour in world history. This is the invasion of Hitler’s Europe, the zero hour.” D-Day has begun, and with it World War II will take a turn in the Allies favor.

National D-Day Memorial

Normandy beach head display at the National D-Day Memorial (Photo courtesy of Stephen Kellam)

This June 6 will mark the 70th anniversary of this landing. It was a gruesome encounter between the Allies and the German Army and the largest amphibious invasion in history. There were more than 10,000 Allied personnel were killed or wounded, and nearly 1,500 American casualties, according to the National World War II Museum in New Orleans.
(Here is an interesting series of photos showing images of Normandy from D-Day juxtaposed pictures of Normandy present day)

War is hell. There is no question about that. This popped into my mind as I was filling out my draft card after my 18th birthday. I couldn’t help but think, “if the government reinstates the draft, shit, I guess you’ll see me in Canada.” I’m a lover not a fighter. Although I have tremendous respect for our veterans I cannot see myself going to war. Mostly because the U.S. isn’t involved in a war worth fighting.

If I were alive for WWII, I would go enlist right away. Considering the scale of the atrocities the Germans committed and threat of world domination, there is hardly a more honorable reason to fight. The world today is a different place. Germany is no longer a Fascist dictatorship, but a successful democracy and U.S. ally. Since WWII America has seen the Civil Rights Movement, a man on the moon, Rock & Roll, microwaves, the internet. So many things from that generation we have done away with or consider old-fashioned, but war is something that has stuck around.

Now let us consider our current global conflicts. The War on Terror that we have been waging for over a decade now is an admirable cause (everyone hates terrorists), but I would argue that it is a war with no winners. No matter how many dictators we kill or governments we keep in check, can we ever eliminate terror from the world? Maybe we can. But if the way we go about fighting terrorism involves guns, bombs and death, I don’t see it happening. According to a study done by Brown University, 132,000 civilians have been claimed by the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. I would say that is a pretty terrifying number.

Everyone knows that war is bad and we should live in peace and harmony blah blah blah, but someone has to do it, right? Wrong. The only reason war is such a necessary evil is because we make it that way. Wars have been being waged since the dawn of man, but maybe it’s time we change that. Technology has deeply altered our lives and it allows us to connect to the globe in the blink of an eye. Technology has also provided us with new and improved ways to kill.

Maybe we should spend less time and money on missiles and shiny guns and focus on communicating and connecting with people in these foreign nations. We should take advantage of this global network and make an effort to understand cultures aside from our own. If we spend more time talking and less time fighting we might realize these places that seem foreign now aren’t so different from us after all.

America likes to pretend that it is the greatest country that has ever lived. This position at the top of the international food chain gives the U.S. a chance to set a positive example. When we stockpile nuclear arms and other devices of war it seems hypocritical for the U.S. to tell other countries not to do the same. What we have here is a vicious cycle of violence, and as long as violence is considered a solution the cycle won’t stop.

On this anniversary of D-Day, let us think about what our troops were really fighting for. They fought so that we wouldn’t have to. The soldiers that gave their lives in WWII so that future generations would never have to face the horrors of war. But as you can see nothing has changed, except we have gotten better at fighting.

Normandy Cemetery

A cemetery in Normandy where many of those who died in D-Day are buried. The Allies fought so that future generations could enjoy peace and prosperity (Photo courtesy of Michal Osmenda)

Tom Brokaw coined the term “the Greatest Generation” to describe those who lived through the Great Depression and fought in WWII. In his book he wrote that, “it is, I believe, the greatest generation any society has ever produced,” because they did not fight for fame or recognition; they fought simply because it was “the right thing to do.” Times have changed. In the same sense that the Greatest Generation will go down in history for fighting the good fight, I think the new generation could go down in history for not fighting. Not because we are lazy or afraid, but because it is the right thing to do.