Saturday, June 06, 2009

Different Ways of Remembering D-Day

All the eloquence about World War II comes from Americans too young to have experienced it--Tom Brokaw's "Greatest Generation," Steven Spielberg'a "Saving Private Ryan"--and now Barack Obama is memorializing D-Day along with Nicolas Sarkozy, Gordon Brown et al.

The survivors are in their eighties now, but age alone does not explain how inarticulate we all are about the transformative experience of our lives. As usual, reporters are interviewing veterans, but the quotes are the same as they have been for more than half a century--less the vivid impressions of participants than the dazed wonder of witnesses, whose bodies were doing what they were told but whose minds and hearts were watching from afar.

President Obama, born decades later, sees it as "the story of America...that always gives us hope" and finds a lesson for today:

"For as we face down the hardships and struggles of our time, and arrive at that hour for which we were born, we cannot help but draw strength from those moments in history when the best among us were somehow able to swallow their fears and secure a beachhead on an unforgiving shore."

Tom Brokaw, of the generation between Obama and us, puts it even more strongly: "Their sacrifices at home and on the frontlines make our current difficulties look like a walk on the beach in comparison."

"Hardships," "struggles" and "sacrifices" put a rhetorical glaze over a nightmare of blood and body parts in which those who were there had little control over whether they lived or died.

Heroism was a matter of staying and doing what had to be done. That's a high enough bar to set for today's generations without glorifying their parents and grandparents who set that example in a time when doing anything else was unthinkable.

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