06 June 2009


06 june 1944 -- D-Day, the allied invasion of nazi-occupied europe across the english channel, was arguably the defining event of the 20th century. there was no exit plan. succeed or die. many died.

if we had failed, we would have tried again, but without the element of surprise. further, a later invasion [a] would likely have been without the leadership of franklin roosevelt or winston churchill; and [b] would have given the nazis time to activate the V-2 rocket, against which there was no defense. one cannot imagine the horror of a world dominated by adolf hitler.

as john scalzi notes, a small and vanishing cadre of WWII vets remains alive to commemorate the event and share their stories. one of them is my father, who served as a railroad worker in france and germany. it is clear when he talks about those days, that they are as vivid and real to him as my own wartime memories of vietnam are to me. yet an era is fading.

or maybe not. because i didn't become a rebellious teenager until 1960, i grew up steeped in the lore, the music and the sense of purpose lived by the WWII generation. so long as i and others like me are alive, the sacrifices and achievements of my parents' generation will not go unnoticed.

thankfully, others feel similarly. steven spielberg's film "saving private ryan" captured in vivid and complex detail not just the normandy invasion, but also the varied mindsets of those who participated. similarly, the excellent PBS series by ken burns, "the war", cast a new light on the lives of ordinary people in extraordinary times, both in military service and at home. i have my own copy of the DVD series, and recommend it to everyone of high school age or older. how else are we to put our own lives in perspective, if not by understanding the lives of our parents and grandparents? how else are we to grasp the direction of the flow of history, if not by learning about what has come before us?

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