Thursday, June 6, 2019

75 Years After The Longest Day

Yes, I am watching "The Longest Day" on TMC.  Have not seen it for decades, but this 75th anniversary of D-Day seems to be the time to do it.  This will be a rambling post all over the place.  I note that according to the film, it was German Field Marshall Rommel who is depicted calling it "the longest day," the day before it happened, seeing it coming.

I have been there several times, first in Fall 1953 when I was young and it was cold and rainy.  Three times in1994, 1997, and 2002 I and my wife, Marina, took students to visit the site, always impressive and moving, especially the famous cemetery.  In 1994 my late mother was with us and went around thanking veterans, who were visiting in large numbers as that was the 50th anniversary.

Unsurprisingly President Trump has been trying to get lots of attention for the celebrations of the anniversary, keen to hang out with the queen, who was actually around for the real thing, telling her how much his late mother admired her, one of the rare times we have heard him say anything about his mother.  Supposedly Macron got more applause at the Portsmouth gathering that had the queen and even Merkel apparently, although not Justin Trudeau, even though the Canadians were a major part of the invasion.  Putin was also not there (more on that later).  I am not going to waste time going on about the usual stupid things Trump has said and done other than to agree with the commentators who find it appalling that he is draping himself in this when so many things he is doing and supporting go against the ideals of those who landed there that fateful and bloody day.

A curious coincidence is that today was the last day my wife, Marina, was teaching.  She is now retired.  For her final lecture she argued that trade is an alternative to war.  Needless to say, this is something that Trump seems to be unaware of.

Before she went to class in the morning we heard a commentator on local radio going on about how this was the decisive turning point of the war, which would be followed by "our guys going to Berlin."  I do not wish to minimize D-Day at all, and certainly not the sacrifices of those who died there, but this is quite aside from the outright inaccuracy of thinking it was Americans who "went to Berlin," this reflects a longstanding ignorance by many Americans about what really happened in WW II.  It was all about us and D-Day, but as most readers of this probably know, the Eastern Front was the most important action, with many times more dead, and the Battle of Stalingrad the real turning point of the war, not to mention that it was the Soviets who got to Berlin first, although the other allies would get their pieces of Berlin later.  Indeed, while later many in the US would complain about our letting the Soviets get there first and taking over so much of Eastern Europe in the bargain, in fact Stalin had begged the Americans and British to invade much sooner.  As it was, the Soviets ended up doing the worst of the heavy lifting.

Which brings us up to Putin not being at Portsmouth, much less on Omaha Beach this morning.  This is understandable as we did not send anybody to their big memorial of the war, Victory Day, May 9.  This has long been one of the biggest holidays of the year in Moscow, both under Soviet rule and since under Russian rule.  As it was, after the end of the USSR there was a period when the military parades were cut back and even eliminated, although it remained a big celebration. But recently Putin has reinstated them.  The war is being increasingly emphasized as a national inspiration, and Stalin is being rehabilitated big time. Nevertheless, at this year's military parades on Red Square, there was only one foreign leader, with him in fact officially stepping down, although into a superior position still in ultimate control, Nursultan Nazarbaev of Kazakhstan, the last ruler of a former Soviet republic to have actually run his republic under Soviet rule as local Communist Party leader.  So, no surprise Putin did not show up for the D-Day celebrations, having a meeting in Moscow with China's Xi Jinping instead.

As for Trump, well, he is spending the night at his gold course in Ireland for a second evening before he heads back to Washington so he can declare a new national emergency to save us from all rhose illegal immigrants coming in from Mexico.  Bring on the tariffs says our bone spur leader!

Barkley Rosser


Erik Poole said...

All true Barkley Rosser but you are missing an important aspect of the Allied victory over Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan for that matter.

The US-lead coalition sealed victory in both cases through a strategy of deliberately targeting civilians in industrial cities.

In other words, allied forces won WW II by using terrorist tactics in the form of fire-bombing industrial cities.

Without 'terrorism' the state of Israel would never have come into existence.

That is something to think about as wide swathes of North Americans support the 'War on Terror' which, with or without irony, results in the US and Israel killing large numbers of innocent civilians.

This will ultimately blow back on American targets. I say that because in my discussions with anti-capitalist, anti-western militants and 'terrorists' over the years, it is the hypocrisy of western imperial powers that provides significant motivation.

Calgacus said...

The US-lead coalition sealed victory in both cases through a strategy of deliberately targeting civilians in industrial cities.

Not really. A large majority of historians say that it wasn't effective, it wasted effort better spent on military targets and just stiffened opposition. said...


I largely agree with Calgacus. An exception is probably the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki that clearly brought the Japanese surrender in WW II.

I am not interested in getting bogged down into an Israeli-Palestinian argument, but I note that the Israelis clearly engaged in outright ethnic cleansing during the first Arab-Israeli war, while the Palestinians have at times engaged in clearly terror bomb attacks against Israeli civilians. On that one, both sides have been at fault.

Peter T said...

Rather than a "large majority" of historians saying was ineffective, the most recent and thorough looks at the bombing picture (by Richard Overy and in Adam Tooze's Wages of Destruction) say that it was indeed effective.

Not to endorse the strategy, but civilians making weapons, manning railways or electricity plants etc have always been targets. The conventions that tried to limit civilian casualties are creatures of the brief period 1870-1914, when it was envisaged that wars would be professional, quick and largely independent of the civilian economy.

On "trade is an alternative to war" - this sentiment sits oddly with the fact that most wars are between neighbours who also have strong trade relationships.

Erik Poole said...


Your sentiment strikes me as rather empty virtue signaling. FYI, the Israelis are currently running a kill ratio in excess of 5:1.

The American kill ratio with respect to Arabs and Muslims must be multiples higher as I rough count fewer than 30,000 Americans that have died from this nation building process while clearly hundreds of thousands of Arab and non-Arab Muslims have died.

Do secure, well-defined economic property rights apply to all or should we allow the USA to determine key exceptions based on race, ethnicity or some sectarian designation?

Moreover, is the 'War on Terror' really a good idea? War on a tactic? When was terrorism absent from war? In that respect, President Trump's willingness to mislead Americans is not an aberration but more of an ugly mirror.

It ultimately boils down to willingness to sacrifice lives and economic wealth for specific resource gains.

Any how, it is something to think about as we celebrate D-Day.

Erik Poole said...

Peter T: Good points.

Could you please expand on this notion that "most wars occur between neighbours who also have strong trade relationships".

I doubt that holds in the post-war (actually post-Atom bomb) era but it could hold prior the WW II.

Calgacus said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Calgacus said...

Peter T:
That is not what I see from a quick look at Tooze. He says bombing against military targets was effective, which was my point. That bombing civilian targets was not effective, comparatively, was my point, and I believe that is the consensus from immediately after the war to now.

Bombing against civilian targets had such support (imho unwarranted, especially retrospectively) back then that Eisenhower had to struggle mightily to redirect bombing to military & related targets to support D-Day!

What Erik said was "deliberately targeting civilians in industrial cities" which I am calling civilian targets; terror bombing of the type which all sides agreed to avoid at the beginning, but ended up doing with enthusiasm. "Civilians making weapons, manning railways or electricity plants" are more in the category of "military and related targets".

The conventions that tried to limit civilian casualties are creatures of the brief period 1870-1914
They were still followed relatively in the First World War, to 1918. It remains the war which had the highest military casualties, even more than WWII - which of course had vastly more civilian casualties. And war (strictly speaking, ignoring consequences) in earlier days was not so lethal and total, due to lack of technology if nothing else.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Poole,

Terrorists are crazed murdering persons whose motives are simply to murder and are of no other significance and are of no other sense. Murder is what terrorists are about. Clear enough?

Anonymous said...

"Which brings us up to Putin not being at Portsmouth, much less on Omaha Beach this morning. This is understandable as we did not send anybody to their big memorial of the war, Victory Day, May 9...."

Of course Americans and western Europeans should have been in Russia and Russians should have been in western Europe to remember the defeat of fascism. The Russians were critically responsible for the defeat as were Indians and Chinese...

Peter T said...

Eric Poole

post-war - China-Vietnam, Vietnam-Cambodia, Iran-Iraq, numerous African wars - all between neighbours. Really only the US and, to a much lesser extent, is able to project power far from its shores. The current China-US rivalry and sabre-rattling is a point - it springs from rather than replaces trade.

Calgacus: bombing went through several stages. Up to late 42 it was inaccurate (even if aimed at military targets it mostly hit civilians), then increasingly heavy and progressively more accurate. Raids like the one on Hamburg diminished production significantly, and Tooze shows that mass bombing was having a major impact on the key Ruhr industries until Harris diverted to Berlin (which allowed recovery). Aside from direct impacts there was also the diversion of scarce aircraft, artillery and manpower to air defence, the forced dispersion of factories and so on. Nazi Germany made large investments in basic plant 1935-39, which started to come on stream from 42 on- but bombing limited output far below potential. Same with rationalisation of production - economies of scale (of which there were enormous scope) proved impossible under sustained bombing. So although production numbers reached a peak in '44, it was largely of older weapons systems (eg Bf 109s and Panther IVs) that could not match their allied or Soviet counterparts.

Erik Poole said...

Peter T:

Neighbours yes. "Strong trading partners"? I am not so sure. Would be nice to see the data supporting that.

Bob Michaelson said...

"An exception is probably the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki that clearly brought the Japanese surrender in WW II."
That is not at all clear - indeed, there is substantial reason to believe that it was the Russian entry into the war with Japan that brought the Japanese surrender, not the use of nuclear weapons. See Ward Wilson's "The winning weapon?"