Today is the 75th anniversary of D-Day, an Allied invasion of Normandy as part of Operation Overload during World War II. It is a defining battle during a defining war with effects that still reverberate to this day as the world recognizes veterans from the war, both living and dead, the millions of lives lost from the destruction.
During this time, President Trump has been visiting the United Kingdom and taking part in activities commemorating the anniversary of the battle which signified a major turning part in the war. With such an occasion, tact and humility are needed to honor those who gave the ultimate sacrifice. That is not what we get with Trump.
Trump is a coward, as Senator Tammy Duckworth declared, and I have to agree. Trump received five deferments during the Vietnam War, two of which were allegedly for bone spurs. Now, we have had presidents who have not served in the military and some who have even criticized American involvement with international conflicts. However, we have not had one that has expressed such cowardice through their denigration of war heroes, false promises to veterans, and maligned understanding of the impact war has on families than Donald Trump.
In an interview with Pier Morgan, Trump discussed his Vietnam stating he “was never a fan” meaning that he did not support American intervention in the country. While others felt the same way. Trump also did not actively protest the war. Others did not as well. Where Trump’s cowardice comes through is how he is able to rationalize his deferment.
During this interview, Trump stated that his lack of service has been rectified by him being elected president. Specifically, Trump said, about serving in Vietnam, “I would not have minded that at all. I would have been honored. But I think I make up for it now. I mean look, $700 billion I gave last year and then this year $716 billion and I think I’m making up for it rapidly because we are rebuilding our military at a level that it’s never seen before.”
In response, Senator Duckworth responded to Trump’s comments by saying “I don’t know anyone who has served in uniform, especially in combat, who would say they are a fan of war,” she said. “In fact, I opposed the Iraq war, but volunteered to go when my unit was deployed.” Donald Trump, who has never been forced to be accountable about anything, is able to, over 40 years later after being issued five deferments, claim he would have proudly served in a war he opposed.
While the Vietnam War was, and remains, rather unpopular in American history, the way World War II has been depicted in popular culture has reflected an opposite, often rose-colored, reputation. For many reasons, World War II has been revered as a defining moment in recent history, an epic battle of good versus evil, where America, and the Allied forces by extension, represent the last bastion of freedom against the existential threat to democracy by Hitler’s fanatical fascism and his commitment to racial purity enforced through systemic genocide. Even Trump echoes this simplistic understanding of the war with comments during the Piers Morgan interview saying, in conjunction with his view on Vietnam, “But, uh, nobody heard of Vietnam and then say well what are we doing. So many people dying. So I was never a fan of — this isn’t like I’m fighting against Nazi Germany. I’m fighting — we’re fighting against Hitler.”
Our society reveres our veterans, and rightfully so. However, we cannot ignore the inherent problems within America before, during, and, unfortunately, after World War II. Breaking down popular conception of the war, there are countless books and resources that document American debate about interfering in European conflicts. And, more disturbingly, there existed a contingent of Americans that championed Hitler’s ideals and leveraged them as a reason to not engage militarily with the dictator. While high school courses and popular culture may paint such a complex war in simple terms of good versus evil, Americans were divided because of their racism and prejudice.
While fascism went out of style and stayed underground for several decades after World War II, it has come back in a big way. Since the early 1990s, fascism and neo-Nazis in Europe have quietly garnered support. And now, in 2019, we are in the middle of the first term of a president who has emboldened fascist contingencies within his base. The extreme factions of Trump’s support base, consisting of white supremacists, American isolationists, and just plain Nazis, have now become organized, motivated, and vocal on social media, championing the president to continue sowing discord among Americans for beliefs that resulted in a global conflict in which upwards of 85 million people lost their lives.
This conflict is recent history. There are people who were alive then, some of whom fought. The idea that we can be so blind to the reality, or even nuance, of war, whittling it down to concepts of good versus bad or right versus wrong, is unsettling. And even more disturbing is the fact that there are significant social and political movements that want to return to fascist order that resulted in the war.
I know it can be easy to be cynical and be all doom and gloom about the future. Trump certainly doesn’t make it easier. However, fascism is on the rise in Europe, especially in eastern Europe. I hope it can be quashed, but it has a strong momentum fueled by racism and political desires to disrupt global alliances and treaties. As the world solemnly reflects on arguably the most significant of World War II’s defining moments, the idea that we could realistically be in the same position, but with nuclear weapons, is terrifying.
Jim Radford is the youngest known D-Day veteran having served as a ship’s galley boy during the Normandy invasion. He helped construct a harbor and ran supplies on the beaches. In 1969, being a fan of folk music, he wrote a song called “The Shores of Normandy.” In 2019, 75 years after the Normandy invasion and 50 years since writing the song, Radford recorded a version of the song which has hit the number spot of Amazon’s singles chart.
In “The Shores of Normandy,” Radford sings about his experience in the invasion. About the song and why he chose to record it in 2019, Radford said “It’s very important to me and other veterans that there should be a place like this where people can come and reflect because we’re not going to be around for much longer to tell the story, and the story needs to be told because people need to learn lessons from it.”
Profits from “The Shores of Normandy” will support the British Normandy Memorial.