65 years ago today, it was D-Day plus one. The day before, Allied forces of the American, British and Canadian Armies had breached the Atlantic Wall in Normandy, France, at the cost of 10,000 dead, wounded or captured soldiers in a single day. The largest invasion in history had been a success, and the liberation of Europe from the Nazis had begun. There would still be another year of bloody fighting and dying, but June 6, 1944 spelled the beginning of the end for Hitler’s insane regime and it’s reign of terror, conquest and genocide. Germany was now hemmed in on two fronts, with the Red Army to the east and the Allies to their west, slowly beating back the German Army into their home country to end the Thousand Year Reich 988 years prematurely.
And who did this? What sort of person would storm a nearly impregnable Atlantic wall bristling with artillery and machine guns and dotted with mine fields? Surely only a professional, experienced Army could accomplish this. No, not quite. Other people did this. They would be a whole lot of ordinary Joes from every walk of civilian life, men pressed into emergency military service by their countries. Most of them were quite young, their adult lives barely even begun. For a great many of them D-Day was the first combat they had experienced. They dashed out of their landing craft onto a beach under extremely heavy fire, a beach that would swiftly be littered with corpses and body parts.
Farmers from Kansas, stevedores from Liverpool, amateur hockey players from Winnipeg and bus drivers from New York City did this heroic deed. Many were volunteers, most were draftees, and their term of service was for “the duration,” until the war was won. Not over, but won. They never doubted they would win. The fact that so few of them had any idea of how wars are fought, never mind won, didn’t discourage them. They trained, they learned new skills and they fought. And they won. In what was possibly the world’s last unambiguous war, World War 2 was a battle between ideas; Democracy versus Fascism, freedom versus totalitarianism and self determination versus conquest.
And in the minds of many, it was good versus evil, and the evil acts of genocide perpetrated by the German and Japanese governments confirmed this judgement. The Holocaust, the rape of Nanking, the murder of Russian civilians, the Bataan Death March, the use of captured slave labor by these Axis partners and countless other incidents of the deliberate slaughter of innocents, these heinous acts were the calling cards of Germany and Japan, two nations who told their people they were a superior brand of human beings. They had to be stopped by any means necessary. And they were.
They were not crushed by supermen or genetically advanced professional warriors, but by the butchers, the bakers and the candlestick makers of this world, who said “Enough!” Both Japan and Germany fought to the bitter end, far past the time when their defeat was a foregone conclusion. Few nations have ever been destroyed as completely as these two, all because they wouldn’t give up their insane dream of world domination by a Master Race. The work of centuries in building their beautiful cities and towns was wiped out in a few short years, both nations dotted with smoking ruins. So much for the Master Race theory.
And so the world we inherited from World War 2, for better and worse, is one we owe to the ordinary Joes of this world, millions and millions of them. Many of them are buried thousands of miles from their homes and the families they loved. Many more bore the scars and grievous injuries earned in battle for the rest of their lives. But the survivors came home, grateful to be fighting no more, no thoughts of world-conquest in their heads, with no desires other than to get on with their lives. The got jobs, married their sweethearts, had some kids and lived their lives, ordinary Joes once again after saving the world. Which tells us one thing: the only master race is the ordinary Joes, the everyday people of this world who want what everyone wants – to be safe and warm and free to think and say what we please and work at our jobs unmolested by Great Men with Grand Visions. Here’s to the D-Day guys.