Peter Kouretsos — Today marks the 70th anniversary of the Allied invasion of Normandy that helped lead to the defeat of Nazi Germany. “D-Day” as it is called now, was the largest amphibious military assault. Ever. Over 4,000 Allied soldiers died on the first day (To put that into perspective, the number of coalition soldiers killed in Afghanistan since 2001 totaled 3444 and 4,804 since 2003 in Iraq). Many recall the letter General Dwight D. Eisenhower, Supreme Allied Commander, wrote to each soldier participating in the invasion:
And if you don’t feel like reading, here’s a recording of it:
I know. After an address like that, I’d be ready to go anywhere Ike told me to! But did you know that Eisenhower also wrote a note accepting blame for the possible failure of the D-Day landing? He never had to read it to the press, but he wrote it to himself the day before the invasion and kept it in his wallet just in case. As I’ve mentioned before, history has a way of sometimes taking on an air of inevitability; we have a tendency to look at past events and subconsciously accept that “this is the only way it could have happened.” Obama said the same thing today, “We say it now as if it couldn’t be any other way. But in the annals of history, the world had never seen anything like it.
And D-Day, one of the most celebrated military operations in world history that’s been lauded as tactical genius, the turning point in the War, the beginning of the end for the Nazis, could have gone down as one of the greatest military disasters in history. Read the letter for yourself:
Ike’s letter reveals that war planning, despite the most carefully crafted strategy, is still a precarious affair and carries with it a profound responsibility. The invasion could have been a disaster, as the article I linked to above laid out. Ike could have blamed the weather. Ike could have blamed the Generals under his command, tasked with carrying out the invasion: Bradley, Leigh-Mallory, Tedder, Dempsey, Ramsay or Monty. Ike could have blamed the massive deception operations for not selling the fake invasion location better. Instead, Ike blamed himself.
Ike scratched out “This particular operation” and instead wrote “My decision to attack.” He acknowledged how much the outcome of the operation and the lives of those men he was sending out to execute the attack weighed on him. It’s one thing for an authority figure to sign a typewritten letter and quite another to write their own declaration of responsibility – before the outcome. I’ve only been alive for a little over two decades, but I’ve seen a lot of people blame others for failures that happened under their watch. Ike’s letter revealed his character, and he represents a measure by which we ought to judge both past and future leadership.