Friday, June 6, 2014

The Sixth of June--Lest We Forget

Do certain dates just stick in your head, so that they stand out even when you encounter them other places? 9/11, 7/4, 12/7 are all examples of this.  Veterans Day 11/11 is another for me at least,  and 11:11 always seems to catch my eye when the clock rolls over to it. 

Today is 6/6 and its another one of those dates, at least for me, as not one, but two major historical events took place on this day.

70 years ago today, when Allied Forces landed on the beaches in Normandy, France it was one of the pivotal moments in history: the beginning of the attempt to rescue  Western Europe from the domination of the Third Reich.

When I was young, one of the books I would try to flip through was my dad's copy of "The Longest Day" by Cornelius Ryan.  I was far too young to get all the battle strategy, but old enough to be fascinated by the stories of individual soldiers.

If you have ever seen the opening sequence of "Saving Private Ryan" you have some idea of what that morning was like.  It was noisy confusing and deadly.  Many men died in the water without reaching shore. Gliders carrying  paratroopers crashed. It could have been a fiasco.  But somehow they hung on and secured the beach. It would take almost a year, but the end had begun.

Wars since then have become ambiguous to say the least, but this was a time when people knew whom they were fighting and why.  Some times people refer to it as the Good War.  I'm not sire any war is good, but it was certainly just.

Had D Day failed, the Allies would still probably won in the end, for the German war effort was slowly collapsing--but it would have taken longer and many more lives would have been lost.  The Nazis would have had time to complete the Final Solution.  So much depended on those young men in Normandy.

This day also marks the anniversary of the death of Robert Kennedy, an event I have come to believe was one of the great tragedies of American History. Like D Day is was a turning point, but in a bad way. 

I have personal memories of this event, as it happened about a month before my 8th birthday. 

That was perhaps the worst year in history to become interested in current events, as all the news was bad. 

I grew up Catholic so of course everyone was fascinated by the Kennedys and rooting for Bobby to win.  

I remember my dad, who work midnights, coming home from work with news of the assassination. 

I remember my teachers crying at school. (It was the quietest last day of school in history.)

As I got older and read more history, I became more and more convinced this was a great turning point of American History.  

First there was the 1968 elections.  Had he lived Kennedy would have won the nomination. He almost certainly would have beaten Nixon, as he could run against Lyndon Johnson and the GOP. (Hubert Humphrey almost beat him and he was Johnson's VP.)
Alternatively the GOP might have gone for a more liberal candidate, possibly Rockefeller.  In either case, its doubtful the Vietnam was would have dragged on.

But something else was lost as well. Kennedy was that rarity, a person of privilege who had not forgotten the struggles of others before him. In his 4 years as Senator from New York he spoken against war, apartheid, racism and poverty.  He brought people together from diverse groups. He could appeal to their better selves.

In April of 1968, two months before his own death, RFK addressed a crowd in Indianapolis, IN that had just learned of the murder of Martin Luther King. He spoke off the cuff and from his heart to the crowd about the tragedy, but also about what was necessary to make the nation whole again:

"What we need in the United States is not division; what we need in the United States is not hatred; what we need in the United States is not violence or lawlessness, but love and wisdom, and compassion toward one another, and a feeling of justice towards those who still suffer within our country, whether they be white or whether they be black."

It is a matter of record that hundreds of cities rioted in the wake of King's death--but not Indianapolis.

That was the voice, and the belief in politics and America at its best, we lost 46 years ago, and we haven't gotten it back.

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