D-Day, 2018. Ah, but who knows what D-Day is? Or when?
D-Day is June 6. On that day in 1944, some 160,000 Allied troops landed along a 50-mile stretch of heavily fortified Normandy coastline to fight the forces of Nazi Germany. (Normandy is in France — for the 10 percent of college graduates who think D-Day happened at Pearl Harbor.)
The D-Day assault was the largest amphibious assault in history. Ever. Ever in the past. Ever in the future. More than 9,000 soldiers were killed or wounded that day (more than twice the number of U.S. soldiers killed in Iraq since 2003), and it is unlikely that any government will ever allow that to happen again. The U.S. dropped two atomic bombs on Japan so that thousands more soldiers, primarily American and Allied forces, but also Japanese, would not have to die — in a war that by then it was clear the Americans were going to win, eventually.
What was it all about? It’s a fair question, given how little younger Americans know about history in general, or World War II in particular.
It was a war about civilization. On the eve of the Normandy invasion (by Allied troops, primarily American, British, and Canadian) President Franklin Roosevelt spoke these words on the radio to anxious parents, wives, and children whose family members and loved ones were about to embark on the most extraordinary adventure the world had ever seen.
“Almighty God: Our sons, pride of our Nation, this day have set upon a mighty endeavor, a struggle to preserve our Republic, our religion, and our civilization, and to set free a suffering humanity. Some will never return. Embrace these, Father, and receive them, Thy heroic servants, into Thy kingdom.”
In the multicultural and increasingly anti-Christian America of today, we can marvel at his formulation: “our Republic,” “our religion,” “our civilization.”
What is “our civilization” for which so many died on that day in Normandy, and on so many other dying days during World War II?
Our civilization, our European civilization, was shaped by Christianity, from whence came chivalry, courtesy, constitutions, congresses and courts. It is a life guided by traditions, which is to say, by the wisdom of our ancestors, who were every bit as bright as we are and who were also shaped and governed primarily by Christianity. Those rights and traditions can be enjoyed by non-believers, but it is not clear they can be sustained by non-believers.
In the U.S., the share of Americans who identify as Christians is dropping, as the number of U.S. adults who do not identify with any organized religion is growing. In Britain the collapse of Christianity is unmistakable. The number of Britons who call themselves Anglicans decreased by 1.7 million between 2012 and 2014, while the number of Muslims grew by almost a million. Lord Carey, a former archbishop of Canterbury, has said that Christianity in England is “one generation away from extinction.”
For this more than a million soldiers were killed or wounded in WWII? Something’s wrong with this picture.
What to do? One action would be to re-invigorate the Christian tradition everywhere, failing which — if that is a bridge too far — at least to recognize the role it played in civilizing the civilized countries.
For reasons that get lost in the fog of democracy, Roosevelt’s prayer was not included on the WWII Memorial in Washington, DC, when it was completed in 2004. But in 2014, a bill introduced by Sen. Rob Portman, Ohio Republican, was signed into law directing the secretary of the Interior to add FDR’s D-Day Prayer to the WWII Memorial.
However, the legislation stipulates that no federal funds may be used to implement the directive. The cost of adding the prayer is estimated to be $3 million, funds that Friends of the National World War II Memorial is seeking to raise.
Wouldn’t you think the government could find $3 million somewhere? Citizens Against Government Waste issues an annual report, Prime Cuts, of wasteful spending. The 2017 version contains 607 recommendations that would save taxpayers $336.2 billion in the first year. Somewhere in that gargantuan waste there must be the $3 million needed to add FDR’s prayer to the WWII Memorial.
Questions: Is a nation that wastes $336 billion a year but can’t find $3 million to add a prayer to the WWII Memorial worthy of the sacrifices of the men who died in that war? And will it be able to preserve the civilization they died for?
• Daniel Oliver is chairman of the board of the Education and Research Institute and a director of Citizens for the Republic.