Fleets of aircraft droned through the clouds, civilians and occupiers gazed skyward and paratroopers leaped out into the night. Meanwhile, across a vast swathe of the restive countryside, resistance members and special forces were activated.
As daylight dawned, awestruck watchers ashore would see the greatest invasion armada of modern times emerge from the murk and bear down upon the beaches of Normandy. To the backing of a cataclysmic naval bombardment, troops stormed ashore.
This was D-Day: “Operation Overlord,” the invasion of Western Europe by the citizen soldiers of the Western democracies. After four years of darkness, what Winston Churchill dubbed “Morning” had finally broken across an oppressed continent.
By dusk on June 6, 1944, more than 150,000 fighting men – predominantly, but not exclusively, American, British and Canadian – were established ashore. Germany’s protective carapace, the “Atlantic Wall,” had been smashed open.
But the invasion – itself an operation fraught with massive peril – was only the beginning. What followed was weeks of bitter combat as Nazi Germany sought to hurl the Allies back into the sea.
Aided by terrain that favored the defense, fighting with the experience garnered in three years of carnage in the East and armed with superb weapons – notably the 88mm gun and Panther and Tiger tanks – German forces resisted with skill and ferocity. Amid this, much of Normandy – notably Caen – was pounded to rubble. Civilian losses were grievous.
But material and air superiority, dogged fighting by the British and Canadians and a brilliant dash by US armor won the day. In the “Falaise Gap,” Germany’s forces in the West were ground to powder, crushed in a bloody vice.
Even so, in the grand picture of World War II, Normandy and the Western Allies were not the deciding factors in the German defeat. For three years, the Soviet Union had taken on the bulk of Germany’s armed forces at a colossal cost in human life.
On June 22, the Red Army – engaged in a grinding, westward advance across a battlefront the width of a continent since the summer of 1943 – unleashed the mightiest land operation of the war, “Operation Bagration.” That handed Germany her greatest single battlefield loss: “The Destruction of Army Group Center.”
Yet D-Day was critical. Soviet correspondents recognized that the intensity of combat in Normandy paralleled that on the Eastern Front, and many of Germany’s finest formations – paratroop, panzer and Waffen SS divisions – were launched against the Allies.
Critically, Germany was forced to fight the two-front war she had always feared. Eleven months after D-Day, Nazism was sprawled dead in the ashes of Berlin.
Today, Western democracies will celebrate D-Day in what is likely to be the last great celebration, its 75th anniversary. Surviving veterans will be lauded, national leaders will speak. There will be pomp, circumstance and somber remembrance.
The year 2019 is witness to an odd conflation of anniversaries. Today is D-Day’s 75th. Three days earlier was the 30th anniversary of China’s Tiananmen Square massacre. The contrasting recall speaks volumes.
Western media will cover D-Day with interviews, historical footage, analyses and live feeds of events and ceremonies. The Chinese media were utterly silent on the anniversary of Tiananmen: Beijing has carefully excised the memory of the killings from her national story.
It is hardly surprising that the Chinese Communist Party goes to enormous lengths to prevent is people from learning what happened. After all, the People’s Liberation Army’s deployment of tanks, airborne units and automatic weapons to wipe out domestic protesters demanding rights and freedoms is a truly shameful thing – and a very far cry from hitting the beaches to battle murderous occupiers who had suppressed rights and freedoms.
Still, we should be clear: Communist China is not Nazi Germany. Beijing is not genocidal. But there are worrisome parallels.
Like Nazi Germany, China is a one-party, totalitarian state that instills populist nationalism and carefully oversees and controls its citizenry. Analogous to Nazi fury at the Treaty of Versailles that ended World War I, Beijing hammers on China’s past humiliations at the hands of foreign powers.
Just as Nazi Germany did, China is building a powerful, expeditionary military that it glorifies and parades across state media. And like Hitler’s land grabs in Eastern Europe, China has seized lebensraum in the form of weaponized, man-made islands in the South China Sea.
Most strikingly, and akin to Nazi Germany’s assault against the Jews, Beijing is deploying a machinery of repression against a racial minority – the Muslim Uighurs, who endure massive persecution, including imprisonment in concentration camps.
Thankfully for humanity, Chancellor Adolf Hitler’s murderous “Thousand Year Reich” strode the earth for less than a decade. While President Xi Jinping’s concentration camps may not be extermination camps, his state is scrawling a new history of totalitarian rule that looks set to enjoy far greater longevity.