69 years ago today, our Allied troops were establishing a beach head on the Normandy Coast of France. By this hour, 4 pm in France, the casualties were staggering but surprisingly below what many top planners expected. By this hour, airborne troops who were dropped haphazardly from C-17s were forming up into coherent units until the remnants of their original “sticks” could be located or they were reassigned. Most had already seen action today as they worked to prevent German troops from moving toward the coast to stop the landings. The paratroopers themselves moved up to link with the assault forces coming off the beaches. Members of Company E (Easy) of the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment of the 101st Airborne Division have by now completed their successful assault on the artillery battery at Brecourt Manor, silencing guns that were raining shells on the nearby beaches. Lieutenant Richard Winters was at this time contemplating Easy Company’s actions for the remainder of the day. At this hour, the operator of a Higgins landing craft was trying to shake off the horrible images of a day spent ferrying troops from ships to shore. Each time he was in personal danger and each time he saw more and more of the Allied dead gathered on the sand as the earlier assault waves moved off the beach and left the gruesome task of gathering the dead to young men who knew it could easily have been them lying torn on the bloody sand. At this hour, frightened but determined infantrymen were claiming small pieces of the European continent in an effort to roll back the Nazis to defeat. Many of them would die in the days to come. At this hour, American Army Rangers were relieved that they had achieved their objectives at the cliffs of Ponte-du-Hoc and the orchards beyond, silencing weapons that threatened both Utah and Omaha Beaches. British and Canadian troops were moving on toward their assigned tasks, chief among them the capture of the nearby city of Caen. Their task had been made easier by the capture in the early morning hours of a small but important bridge, code-named Pegasus, by British commandos brought in with amazing precision aboard wood and fabric gliders. At this hour, Hitler was unsure as to whether this was the real invasion of the continent or just a diversion. At the same time, his field commanders in the Normandy region were convinced. At this hour, General Dwight Eisenhower was relieved that he did not have to deliver a message that he had written prior to the landings. If read, it would have stated that the invasion was a failure and the blame should fall on his shoulders alone. At this hour, millions of civilians, soldiers, military commanders, and government officials of the Allied nations were praying for the success of the invasion. To God’s glory, the forces allied against fascism and totalitarian rule controlled a narrow strip of land along the coast of Normandy. At this hour, veterans of this mighty campaign may be remembering this day 69 years ago. At this hour, pray for your nation and leaders, that they may do what is right and preserve the freedoms that our troops fought to retain, in WWII and afterward.
After a long summer and a much-needed rest by many of us, we are back to work at Bentonville High School. I want to welcome my new students in AP United States History and IB History of the Americas. I look forward to working with you all this year. We will be getting down to the business of history very quickly. In fact, IB seniors should already be finished with their summer work. Your Extended Essays should also be at the point of turning in a rough draft to your faculty advisor.
As this is a presidential election year, I expect many of you are going to be curious about the progress of the campaign. I encourage you to pay close attention to what is happening as we approach the election. You may be called upon to speak or write about some aspect of this election cycle. Please understand that it is not my intent to indoctrinate my students with a political position. It is for that reason that I will maintain the role of a facilitator in our discussions.
Preparing for our exams this year is always job number one. Get ready for a fast-paced year.
I had an opportunity to visit Normandy once again during the first week of July. While it rained nearly every day, especially at Pointe-du-Hoc, I still appreciated the sights. Upon my first visit to the Normandy coast in 2004, I was much more in awe of the place and therefore did not take in the more subtle features. I have always loved the beautiful countryside. Now I can better understand how the lay of the land influenced the tactics and strategies utilized by both the attackers and defenders of this place. Some areas leant themselves to tank warfare and movement while others were dependent upon the infantry to protect or seize ground. The Norman hedgerows certainly provided an ideal defensive environment for the Germans. Still, the Allies were able to overcome the forces arrayed before them, eventually breaking out from the beach head and sweeping east toward Germany. Nearly a year passed with much more brutal fighting before Germany capitulated.
My concern is that what happened here and elsewhere in the Second World War is becoming less relevant to today’s youth. I am a huge advocate of historical travel. I have led tours to Europe since 2004. Few return from such a tour without a better appreciation of what happened there. Experience teaches me that the American Cemetery in Normandy has the greatest impact. There is a strong visual experience for those who visit.
Walking in the places of History helps one to feel more connected to that history. Simply reading about the invasion of the continent and breaching the Atlantic Wall will have a varied effect upon students. Seeing the beaches, feeling the sea spray, and leaving tracks in the wet sand or mud of a former battlefield reinforce what is read in a tangible way. It is my desire and plan to continue to take students on tours of sites such as Normandy. I do hope that in some way I can preserve the memory of those who fought there, striving to eliminate the grip of Fascism on the world.
We are closing in on the year 2011 and I hope that this will mean a new beginning for the U.S. Government. Now that the 2010 election cycle is over, it is my hope that the political posturing will subside and our politicians will get down to business. During the last two months, it seems that the lame duck congress has been hell-bent on passing legislation, often in cases where there should be a great deal more discussion before cramming it through.
President Obama and the Democratic Party might want to be careful about any comparisons to Franklin Delano Roosevelt. FDR is certainly one of our greatest presidents. After all, he faced crises on the domestic and global fronts that no other POTUS has faced. His legacy is as solid as that of Washington or Lincoln, great men who faced severe challenges as well. But FDR did not end the Great Depression as American mythology would have us believe. The vast array of programs that made up the New Deal sought to tackle the economic downturn (understatement) that began shortly after the inauguration of President Hoover. The explosion (understatement again!) of government programs and intervention under FDR and his agreeable Congress never eliminated the Depression. Americans were going to elect anyone but Hoover in 1932, and all the Democrats had to do was run on a vague populist platform that promised change.
Sound familiar? While George W. Bush was not running in the 2008 election, the Democratic Party treated the election as if he was, shrewdly tying Republican candidates for just about any office with W. Senator Obama also promised change with a strongly populist platform. He avoided mentioning any specifics about his program. He didn’t need to. The momentum was clearly in his favor. But like FDR, once in office, he had to act. Both of these presidents enjoyed the support of Congress. This was not because of a tremendous groundswell of bipartisanship. It was due to political control. There was certainly a core group of Republicans that were concerned about the growth of government. The programs surly came flying in although with good intentions. After all, millions of Americans were suffering and the U.S. had a staggering 25% unemployment rate. But despite the tremendous growth of regulatory agencies and job-creating bureaus, the unemployment rate never dropped below 15%. And to emphasize the reliance upon deficit spending, when FDR and Congress attempted to pare back some of the New Deal programs, the economy took another nose dive. War production brought on “full employment.” The New Deal was really life support rather than resuscitation.
What is the point here? The Keynesian approach of spending our way out of economic problems was troublesome for FDR. He was concerned with the rising national debt! But the populist approach was keeping Democrats in office. This made it much easier to reach for greater heights. FDR suffered from a degree of hubris. Is that what our current president is succumbing to? Congress under Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid are willing to give him a leg up to reach for the heights. The point we need to consider is whether “healthcare reform” is a power grab similar to the genesis of the welfare state under FDR. Who will ever have the guts to take entitlements away from the people who the Democrats have convinced are the victims of greedy corporate America? Talk about a sacred cow! But Obama, Pelosi, and Reid do not have a world war to do the REAL work of eliminating the economic crisis. If Democrats want to play the FDR way, they had better consider the cost. Americans will eventually see that this is an administration that is using the faltering economy to push through their higher agenda. That agenda is going to cost trillions of dollars and it has to come from somewhere. We Americans are not big on taxation. We are likely to see the greatest spike in taxation that has ever taken place in the U.S.A. That is, of course, if there are not significant cuts in programs. The modern progressive Democrats have made little effort to hide the intended source of that tax revenue. It will come from the rich. That sounds great to lower middle class and working class Americans. But the definition of rich is dynamic. How low will the standard for “rich” have to drop in order to secure the revenue to pay for the ambitious programs on the burner. Populist appeals and class warfare always work in an economic climate such as exists today. If prosperity returns, you can count on a strong backlash to expanding the government trough.