Every irony yields a potential lesson. Certainly it was so this week when President Trump, during ceremonies in England honoring the Allied forces that stormed the beaches of Normandy 75 years ago today, read aloud a prayer for the troops originally delivered via radio on June 6, 1944, by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Irony: Before America’s late entry into the war, FDR wrestled with the infamous America First Committee, a movement dedicated to isolationist policies, even as Nazi Germany crushed nation after nation across Europe with little resistance but for lonely Great Britain and isolated freedom fighters.
“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,” Trump said, echoing FDR’s powerful words (though somewhat curtailed for those who know this FDR prayer). “They will need Thy blessings, for the enemy is strong. He may hurl back our forces, but we shall return again and again; and we know that by Thy grace, and by the righteousness of our cause, our sons will triumph.”
In a 2004 interview, 78-year-old Wacoan Al Essig, who parachuted behind enemy lines on D-Day, told Trib staffer J.B. Smith why he sought to impress local students on the grim cost of war: “I hope to leave them with a better picture, a real picture of what war is really like for those who are dying on the beaches and the jungles. It’s not Hollywood. People suffer. Families suffer. It’s a dirty, filthy mess. You wear the same clothes for weeks. You eat the same kind of food, K-rations. You ignore that it’s Christmas or Thanksgiving. The object is to stay alive and kill them before they kill you.”
If we ourselves are to pray for anything today, let’s pray those leaders attending ceremonies honoring the 156,000 Allied troops who braved Normandy, and at horrific cost, recognize why such sacrifices were necessary. Let’s pray they recognize that isolationist policies only delay the awful and inevitable, as America First champions such as aviator Charles Lindbergh learned to their humiliation. Let’s pray that they recognize the dreadful price for coddling dictators, as British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain did in his dying days in bombed-out Mother England.
Some among us will protest: “Enough already! This is a time to pay tribute to the American, British and Canadian troops who stormed the beaches and began to push the Nazi menace back to Berlin! No politics!” Sure, all of us feel strongly about those who put their lives on the line. But not learning from the political mistakes that made such sacrifices necessary demonstrates supreme disrespect for those troops. History will likely repeat itself, but it never repeats in quite the same way. It will reappear before us in new guise, new settings. And many of us will again be fooled to our everlasting humiliation.
Recklessly dismissing critical alliances such as NATO — forged and perfected in part by members of the Greatest Generation who fought the Axis powers — and cavalierly rationalizing away concerns about ruthless, self-serving authoritarians with proclivities all too familiar in history’s darkest chapters do not honor the fallen or those who came home from war. If we are to honor those men and women before the TV cameras and the crowds, if we are to recite the words of leaders of the stature of Churchill and FDR, then the least we can do is ensure their sacrifices and efforts to fashion a better world are not in vain.