When you think of World War II, which battle do you think of as most important? Many people would say the invasion of Normandy--but I do wonder if it's because it's the one that most people can remember by name, the one that makes it into the movies more often. I've heard some historians say that the battle of Stalingrad was more important. You might argue that the dropping of the bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki saved lives by making it possible to avoid these kinds of grueling battles.
On The Diane Rehm Show yesterday, I heard this startling assertion when Diane Rehm introduced historian Rick Atkinson: "You call D-Day one of the most singular, most important days of Western civilization."
My mind instantly raced for other contenders to that title: the most important day of Western civilization.
I also thought of all those veterans who are still alive, but not for very much longer. I thought of modern battles, so far so very different.
I hear a lot of talk about today's generations, about how we wouldn't be able to fight the way we did in World War II. But we forget about how malnourished the youth of the nation was in 1940, just as the Great Depression was coming to an end. You wouldn't have looked at that generation and seen a great fighting force. They weren't particularly special.
People do what must be done. If we felt threatened, and if we had to launch a D-Day invasion, I have no doubt that we'd do it.
But I certainly hope we never have to have such a war again. I look at the number of the dead, and my brain can scarcely take it in. I pasted the stats from Wikipedia below. On the left are the Allied stats and on the right, the Axis stats.
So yes, let us say a prayer of thanks for what those troops did all those years ago. And let us say a prayer that we won't ever be called upon to protect freedom this way again.
Casualties and losses
Over 61,000,000 (1937–45)
Over 12,000,000 (1937–45)