Last Wednesday (June 6) was the 68th anniversary of D-Day, the Western allies’ landing at Normandy. And while it is a milestone in Second World War history, I feel it is hyped way too much for the usual reasons.
Often, what is historically “important” depends on your perspective. And since U.S. forces were the bulk of the invasion, Americans understandably, if incorrectly, pump up D-Day’s importance. The local newspaper called D-Day the “turning point” of the war. The writer needs to gets his (or her) facts straight….
Much more important is a date few Americans recognize: June 22 is the 71st anniversary of the German invasion of Russia, which was the prelude to the beginning of the end of the Nazis. The beginning of the end was, of course, the Battle of Stalingrad, which marked the end of successive German military victories. It was on the eastern front that Hitler’s fate was sealed and it is Russia that was principally responsible for the defeat of the Germans.
When I question why the Nazis get all the attention, it is because Americans can justifiably take pride in their role in another aspect of the war, an aspect that often gets little attention: the war in the Pacific against Japan. The war against Japan was truly America’s war.
After all, the U.S. did not enter the war because of Europe but because of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. After that, Congress declared war only on Japan. It was Hitler, in a show of support for Japan after the Pearl Harbor attack, who declared war on the U.S. (And Roosevelt happily accepted the declaration because 18 months after Western Europe fell to the Nazis, Americans had no desire to become involved in a “European” problem.)
So it is…interesting…and frustrating that the Nazis get all the attention when it comes to Second World War anniversaries. Even though the heavy lifting in the Pacific was done by the U.S., most Americans will not recognize significant dates in the war against Japan.
For example, I was particularly dismayed by the lack of any acknowledgement in the national media of April 9. That was the 70th anniversary of the surrender at Bataan, the largest surrender of U.S. military forces in history. It was followed by the infamous Bataan Death March. (BTW, Bataan was also the site of the last American cavalry charge, led by then Lt. Edwin Ramsey.)
But I saw nary a mention of either of these two events by the national news media. (PBS has been showing a documentary of Bataan in May and June in select cities.)
Nor did I see anything about June 4-7, the 70th anniversary of the Battle of Midway, easily the greatest naval victory of the war and one of the top naval victories in history. After Midway, Japan was on the defensive and Gen. MacArthur was able to implement the “island hopping” strategy which brought the war to Japan.
So forget the Nazis; it is the Pacific war where American forces shone and won victory. But so many Americans overlook that.
As a child, one of my favorite programs was Victory At Sea, the documentary series of the war in the Pacific. Here is the third and final portion (six minutes) of the Midway episode (the other two are there if you’re interested, as are all episodes):