Originally Posted: June 6, 2019
Jeffrey Engel is director of Southern Methodist University’s Center for Presidential History and co-author of “Impeachment: An American History.” He wrote this column for the Washington Post. The views here are his own.
“Lest we forget.” Expect to hear those words often as we mark the 75th anniversary of D-Day this week. More than half a million Allied airmen, soldiers and sailors invaded France that cold and blustery morning. More than 4,000 would be dead by day’s end. So, too, a thousand German soldiers and an estimated 3,000 French civilians. It was carnage.
Lives were lost every day of the war — in the Soviet Union, one life every four seconds — but D-Day holds a special place in American memory because it marked the beginning of the end of our nation’s last clear-cut conflict between good and evil. “Here the Allies stood and fought against tyranny in a giant undertaking unparalleled in human history,” President Ronald Reagan once explained on the wind-swept cliff above the bloodiest beach of all. We’ll hear similar invocations this week about bravery and sacrifice on behalf of this noblest of causes, and how we must aspire to such greatness today.
Those exhortations will be hollow if we fail to remember the real purpose behind those hallowed deaths, which was not merely the destruction of an evil regime but construction of a world capable of preventing its return. Today, nationalism, xenophobia, trade barriers and just plain hate — all the elements that produced World War II — once again dominate global politics. Even the war’s simplest lesson, that Nazis are bad, finds critics, a development that would undoubtedly surprise and sadden the men of Omaha Beach and Point du Hoc. That is a shame. It is also dangerous, because “lest we forget” is not merely about remembering grand deeds of old. It is also a warning. READ MORE