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Into the Jaws of Death, D-Day
"Into the Jaws of Death." Photo Credit: Robert F. Sargent / National Archives / Wikimedia

Eighty years ago, thousands of young Americans fought for the very ideals that are now in jeopardy back home.

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Among the dignitaries attending the ceremony to commemorate the 80th anniversary of D-Day and honor the sacrifices Allied soldiers made on the beaches of Normandy was German Chancellor Olaf Scholz.

Leader of the same Germany whose ultimate defeat those young men brought about. 

And yet it’s not the same Germany at all.

Because, as Scholz wrote in an editorial appearing in a French newspaper ahead of the event, it was not just “a day of liberation for France and for many European countries that suffered under German occupation and a reign of terror. It was also a day of liberation for Germany itself.” 

D-Day was, according to Scholz, “the beginning of the end for the inhumane system of national socialism, its racial fanaticism and militarism, the desire to destroy and imperial fantasies.” And it paved the way to democracy, freedom, prosperity, and the rule of law. 

To many Americans, Scholz’s words may seem odd. 

Because, here at home, even after more than 150 years, the leaders of a regime that was willing to break away from the United States for the right to own slaves are still revered by millions of people who proudly fly the “rebel flag.”

As a result, while racism remains alive and well in the US, and especially the South, what Germany’s example has shown is that it is possible to change (and even relatively quickly) from an evil menace to a productive member of the global community.

Because a country isn’t just defined by its borders but also by its ideals. 

For more than 200 years, the United States has been an international symbol of liberty. Sure, it’s been a long and sometimes rocky road (just as the scourge of right-wing extremism has not been fully defeated in Germany), but, generally, the US has earned the right to call itself the land of the free and home of the brave. 

That was never more evident than on June 6, 1944, when tens of thousands of young Americans, fighting alongside an even greater number of British and Canadian soldiers, risked (and in many cases lost) their lives to defeat an ideology diametrically opposed to that for which the US has stood since its inception. 

Their sacrifice was not in vain because that ideology was defeated, and Germany did change. 

“Today, I feel a deep sense of gratitude and humility for the determination of the free world to stand up to a reign of terror and suppression and to defend their own values,” Scholz wrote. 

But though Germany was transformed from an oppressive nationalistic regime to a thriving democracy, the opposite may happen in the United States. 

This deeply divided country is in real danger of abandoning its democratic principles in favor of authoritarian rule.

Granted, both sides believe their political opponents are doing the oppressing, but that is neither supported by facts nor the rhetoric of the two men who will likely face each other in a fight for the presidency — and the soul — of the United States.

The parallels to the worst version of Germany are disturbing, as we have pointed out: Coups, political leaders who thought they could control a couple of madmen — both of whom were the unlikeliest of champions for the ideologies they promoted — and endless lies. 

Unfortunately, there is no beach to be stormed this time around, no singular act of heroism that will save the United States.

Conversely, the sacrifice Americans have to make this year is very easy compared to that of the Allied soldiers we honor today: They just have to vote and stand up to authoritarian rule once again.



Author

  • Klaus Marre

    Klaus Marre is a writer, editor, former congressional reporter, and director of the WhoWhatWhy Mentor Apprentice Program. Follow him on Twitter @KlausMarre.

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