On this day, four score minus ten years ago, one hundred and sixty thousand soldiers from thirteen countries crossed the english channel to invade Europe. Late the previous evening, and into the early hours of the morning, a further twelve hundred airbourne infantry landed behind the beaches of Normandy, and rang the opening shots of the Battle of Normandy.
By the end of the day, near fourty five hundred Allied soldiers lay day, with thousands more wounded. The German forces lost around one thousand. By the end of the Operation Overlord, the total losses would mount to three quarters of a million.
The scope of war sometimes boggles the mind. Since we've seen the movies, and played through recreations of the battles in gods know how many games, one would think that one would have a grasp of it. One would in fact be wrong.
Those things can help bring us context and scale to the events, possibly better than any people in the history of this little planet we cling to. That context still comes at the cost of being emotionally distanced from the events by the very means we use to experience them. This is of no fault of the medium, as we do still get an emotional investment into these events by their portrayal in movies, games and books (anyone who says otherwise doesn't know what they're talking about. I've said it, games are art as much as movies and books are), that would be impossible without them. It's just that the very nature of a second (and often more) hand medium of experiencing even the most vivedly captured historical events leads to it being a historical event. And, with that, boring and dusty.
One hundred and sixty thousand men charged from boats onto fortified beaches and into the screaming mouthes of the machine guns and mortars. The dedication and belief in their cause must have been the only thing that kept some of those soldiers running, until they felt the hot slam of an MG-42 bullet in their gut. Some I guess would have spit it back out in blood spattered bitterness at the world before dying. Others let it cradle them into the darkness.
With the hindsight of years, we can baldly say that it was a just cause. The Cassus Belli against the Germans could not have been more justified in the long and sad history of war. Those poor sad hundred and sixty thousand bastards didn't know that, however. They'd been told exactly the same thing every soldier before and since has been; the enemy is monstrous, we are virtuous, the virtuous destroys the monsters. The men shooting at the beaches from the fortifications probably got the same pep-talk, after all. The fact that one side was right, and the other were monstrous butchers, doesn't really mean much in general. For all history could have said, those soldiers on the beaches would have died for no reason other than a trade dispute gone very sour.
That is something that I feel is often glossed over during our rememberance of World War II. Their deaths lead to the stop of the deaths of more millions, and this should be justly sung to all, lest we forget.
Their deaths could just have easily been for naught, and this too should be justly sung to all. Lest we forget.