Mike Zucker: Retrospective: D-Day plus 70 years
“I am proud to say to you that the spirit of the American people was never higher than it is today — the Union was never more closely knit together — this country was never more deeply determined to face the solemn tasks before it.”
That was President Franklin D. Roosevelt delivering his State of the Union address on Jan. 6, 1942, less than one month after the dastardly attack on Pearl Harbor, leading a nation truly united in both apprehension and determination. Almost 2 ½ years later General Dwight D. Eisenhower led the great allied invasion of Europe, an operation that was years in planning, a massive exercise of combined land, sea and air power whose execution marked the beginning of the end for Adolf Hitler’s Germany. On Friday, 70 years later, we commemorate historic D-Day, that moment in time whose likes will never be seen again.
Many in this country carry nostalgia for those years. I share those feelings. It’s not for war’s desolation; it’s for the unity and devotion we all held to defending a way of life, a sense of national purpose which eludes us today.
I bemoan that the patriotic American spirit so prevalent during World War II has withered on the rocks of today’s political extremism and the winds of hatred that bathe them.
The contrast between those war years’ national esprit de corps and the volatile political landscape that we have today is stark. In the 1940s we were the Pledge of Allegiance’s one nation indivisible. In 2014, when we don’t have to marshal resources to defeat a foreign enemy, the Pledge rings hollow. These days the republic for which Old Glory stands is not one nation indivisible. We’re a nation divided between common sense and ideology. Reasonable efforts to earnestly address crucial issues that benefit all of us are met with automatic resistance from obstinate politicians who would rather personally attack the president and key members of his administration.
In his 1942 call to arms, Roosevelt said “We must guard against divisions among ourselves… We must be particularly vigilant against racial discrimination in any of its ugly forms. Hitler will try again to breed mistrust and suspicion between one individual and another, one group and another, one race and another… He will try to use the same technique of falsehood and rumor-mongering with which he divided France from Britain.”
FDR’s warning resonates today when seeds of mistrust and suspicion are planted not by a foreign dictator but by sources in our own society, including people elected to national office. Political discourse is tainted by visceral hatred of the president while a recalcitrant Congress pursues endless investigations and phony scandals instead of enacting constructive legislation that addresses the country’s needs. During the 1940s Americans mobilized against enemies who attacked us. In the wake of the 2012 killing of four Americans in Libya, Republicans mobilize not to condemn the murderers, but to cast blame upon the president and the Secretary of State whom they outrageously suggest were complicit in those murders. They waste a nation’s time and money vainly conducting futile destructive searches for conspiracies.
As Roosevelt called upon a nation to battle foreign tyranny, President Barack Obama has issued a peacetime call to arms to repair the country’s crumbling infrastructure, to construct a modern transportation system that rivals those in competing countries, to reincarnate a commitment to equality of opportunity. But instead of joining this fight, Congressional Republicans block virtually every White House proposal designed to improve the lives of ordinary Americans. They insist we cannot afford such measures unless we cut social programs that benefit the poor and the middle class.
That’s nonsense! When we built history’s mightiest military force, that we couldn’t afford it was not part of our political lexicon. Roosevelt deflated arguments against meeting the enormous financial burden of prosecuting the fight to preserve a nation. “War costs money,” he said in that 1942 speech. “Our war program for the coming fiscal year will cost …more than half of the estimated annual national income. That means taxes and bonds and bonds and taxes…”
Our military victories in Normandy in June 1944 and the rest of Europe and the Pacific over the ensuing 14 months prove that the United States can do anything it wills. We need a massive coordinated effort to address the widespread spiritual and physical decay that has tainted our proud national character.
Today’s tragedy is that the spirit of unity ingrained in us before and after D-Day is missing in action. Whether the great experiment called America continues depends on our ability to retrieve it.
FDR’s January 1942 speech contains an appropriate answer: “Let no man say it cannot be done. It must be done—and we have undertaken to do it.”
Michael Zucker is a resident of South Lake Tahoe and a stockbroker with Regal Securities. The views expressed in this column are his alone and do not represent those of Regal.
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