Victor Davis Hanson Private Papers

Remembering D-Day

By Victor Davis Hanson
National Review’s “The Corner”

D-Day was the largest amphibious invasion in history since King Xerxes’ 480 BC combined sea and land descent into Greece. The Americans, especially General George Marshall, had wanted to invade France as early as spring 1943, still confident from their World War I experience that they could land easily in France and within a year push back the German army to end the war. The British and their Dominions, mindful of disasters from the Somme to Dunkirk and Dieppe, were reluctant to land in France even in 1944. A good compromise was June 1944, when air and naval supremacy over and off the coast of France was achieved, sufficient landing craft were available, the Allies had learned a great deal about amphibious operations from North Africa, Sicily, Italy, and the Pacific, British and American strategic bombing was at last starting to pay off, and the huge Red Army had destroyed about 100 German divisions in the East.

For all the well-noted disasters on D-Day (e.g., air drops were often off target, naval shelling was too brief, intelligence about the Omaha Beach defenses and the Bocage was inadequate, the talented George S. Patton was left out of the planning and initial assault, etc.), the landings of some 150,00 troops were brilliantly conducted, and while costly (over 4,000 fatalities), were far less lethal than anticipated. And despite the subsequent six-week, post-D-Day stall due to fierce German resistance, difficult terrain, supply bottlenecks, the inability to take the Atlantic ports intact, and often sluggish generalship, by the end of July the Allied forces had at last broken out and were headed eastward at a phenomenal pace.

Joseph Stalin — who at one time or another would make non-aggression or alliance agreements with all the major Axis and Allied belligerents — had helped force a “second front” by unfairly deprecating the ongoing Anglo-American efforts in the Pacific, North Africa, Italy, the Battle of the Atlantic, the strategic bombing campaign, and massive Lend-Lease aid to the USSR. He had hoped that a second front in the West would tie up about 70 German divisions and ease his ongoing approach to Eastern Europe and Germany. It was likely that he had no idea that the Allied armies would cover nearly the same distance from the beaches to central Germany as from Moscow to Berlin in about a quarter of the time and at less than 20 percent of the casualties suffered by the Soviets.

For all the petty bickering, D-Day was a model of British, Canadian, and American cooperation of the sort sorely lacking on the Axis side. The raw courage of the troops, British experience and ingenuity (from the Mulberry harbors to Hobart’s “funnies”), American logistics and supply, superb deception, combined naval and tactical air support, and Eisenhower’s leadership and competent SHAEF planners ensured success. In contrast, the vaunted and more experienced German General Staff was paralyzed by surprise and easily deceived, bickering over the use of the Panzer reserves, plagued by the Luftwaffe impotence and incompetence, and hamstrung by Hitler’s disastrous micromanagement.

In the 72 years since D-Day, the Americans have matched the ingenuity of the landings (cf. Inchon), displayed comparable courage (at Chosin, Hue, and Fallujah), but never quite have been as united in seeing such a huge and vital operation succeed. Perhaps what has changed is not so much our military or even the magnitude of the existential threats we face (e.g., Hitler was never able to blow up 16 acres in Manhattan or threaten a U.S. city with a nuclear weapon), but the sense of purpose of a far larger, more powerful and affluent nation, which, unlike the generation of June 6, 1944, is more likely to feel that America must be perfect to be good.

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About victorhanson

Victor Davis Hanson is the Martin and Illie Anderson Senior Fellow in Residence in Classics and Military History at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, a professor of Classics Emeritus at California State University, Fresno, and a nationally syndicated columnist for Tribune Media Services. He is also the Wayne & Marcia Buske Distinguished Fellow in History, Hillsdale College, where he teaches each fall semester courses in military history and classical culture. He recently published an historical novel The End of Sparta (2012), a realistic retelling of Epaminondas invasion and liberation of Spartan-control Messenia. In The Father of Us All (2011), he collected earlier essays on warfare ancient and modern. His upcoming history The Savior Generals(2013) analyzes how five generals in the history of the West changed the course of battles against all odds. He was awarded the National Humanities Medal in 2007 and the Bradley Prize in 2008. Hanson, who was the fifth successive generation to live in the same house on his family’s farm, was a full-time orchard and vineyard grower from 1980-1984, before joining the nearby CSU Fresno campus in 1984 to initiate a classical languages program. In 1991, he was awarded an American Philological Association Excellence in Teaching Award, which is given yearly to the country’s top undergraduate teachers of Greek and Latin. Hanson has been a National Endowment for the Humanities fellow at the Center for Advanced Studies in the Behavioral Sciences, Stanford, California (1992-93), a visiting professor of classics at Stanford University (1991-92), a recipient of the Eric Breindel Award for opinion journalism (2002), an Alexander Onassis Fellow (2001), and was named alumnus of the year of the University of California, Santa Cruz (2002). He was also the visiting Shifrin Professor of Military History at the U.S. Naval Academy, Annapolis, Maryland (2002-3). He received the Manhattan Institute’s Wriston Lectureship in 2004, and the 2006 Nimitz Lectureship in Military History at UC Berkeley in 2006. Hanson is the author of hundreds of articles, book reviews, scholarly papers, and newspaper editorials on matters ranging from ancient Greek, agrarian and military history to foreign affairs, domestic politics, and contemporary culture. He has written or edited 17 books, including Warfare and Agriculture in Classical Greece (1983; paperback ed. University of California Press, 1998); The Western Way of War (Alfred Knopf, 1989; 2d paperback ed. University of California Press, 2000); Hoplites: The Ancient Greek Battle Experience (Routledge, 1991; paperback., 1992); The Other Greeks: The Family Farm and the Agrarian Roots of Western Civilization(Free Press, 1995; 2nd paperback ed., University of California Press, 2000);Fields without Dreams: Defending the Agrarian Idea (Free Press, 1996; paperback, Touchstone, 1997; The Bay Area Book reviewers Non-fiction winner for 1996); The Land Was Everything: Letters from an American Farmer (Free Press, 2000; a Los Angeles Times Notable book of the year); The Wars of the Ancient Greeks (Cassell, 1999; paperback, 2001); The Soul of Battle (Free Press, 1999, paperback, Anchor/Vintage, 2000); Carnage and Culture (Doubleday, 2001; Anchor/Vintage, 2002; a New York Times bestseller); An Autumn of War (Anchor/Vintage, 2002); Mexifornia: A State of Becoming (Encounter, 2003),Ripples of Battle (Doubleday, 2003), and Between War and Peace (Random House, 2004). A War Like No Other: How the Athenians and Spartans Fought the Peloponnesian War, was published by Random House in October 2005. It was named one of the New York Times Notable 100 Books of 2006. Hanson coauthored, with John Heath, Who Killed Homer? The Demise of Classical Education and the Recovery of Greek Wisdom (Free Press, 1998; paperback, Encounter Press, 2000); with Bruce Thornton and John Heath, Bonfire of the Humanities (ISI Books, 2001); and with Heather MacDonald, and Steven Malanga, The Immigration Solution: A Better Plan Than Today’s (Ivan Dee 2007). He edited a collection of essays on ancient warfare, Makers of Ancient Strategy (Princeton University Press, 2010). Hanson has written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times, International Herald Tribune, New York Post, National Review, Washington Times, Commentary, The Washington Post, Claremont Review of Books, American Heritage, New Criterion, Policy Review, Wilson Quarterly, Weekly Standard, Daily Telegraph, and has been interviewed often on National Public Radio, PBS Newshour, Fox News, CNN, and C-Span’s Book TV and In-Depth. He serves on the editorial board of the Military History Quarterly, and City Journal. Since 2001, Hanson has written a weekly column for National Review Online, and in 2004, began his weekly syndicated column for Tribune Media Services. In 2006, he also began thrice-weekly blog for Pajamas Media, Works and Days. Hanson was educated at the University of California, Santa Cruz (BA, Classics, 1975, ‘highest honors’ Classics, ‘college honors’, Cowell College), the American School of Classical Studies, Athens (regular member, 1978-79) and received his Ph.D. in Classics from Stanford University in 1980. He divides his time between his forty-acre tree and vine farm near Selma, California, where he was born in 1953, and the Stanford campus.

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