Monday, June 7, 2010

A Historical Perspective...

As many people should be aware, yesterday (June 6) was the anniversary of D-Day. For those who don’t have a degree in history, or failed to pay attention in high school, D-Day is kind of a big deal in the Western world.

Otherwise known as the Invasion of Normandy, Operation Neptune, or Operation Overlord, D-Day occurred on June 6, 1944. In less than 24 hours, 160,000ish American, British and Canadian troops assaulted the French coast via amphibious landing and paratroop deployment. The result was a return to Europe for the Western Allies, a sound ass-kicking of a bunch of Nazi’s, and the opening of a second front. It is regarded as the largest ever seaborne invasion, a master work of trickery, deceit, and awesomeness, and in the Western world is considered THE turning point of the Second World War.

D-Day has been turned into a huge production. It has been featured in films (Saving Private Ryan, which if you haven’t seen, you should), The Longest Day (also a really long movie, coincidentally). TV shows (Band of Brothers is the easy option here). Video games (Medal Of Honor: Allied Assault recreated the storming of Omaha Beach, as did Battlefield 1942, somewhat ironically because D-Day was in ’44). Basically, from a very young age what people learn about World War II history is two things: 1 – Killing Germans was good and 2; D-Day pretty much ended the war.

The text book more or less says the Yanks showed up, threw some grenades, took a few bullets and saved the free world. Oh, and Brits and the Canadians helped a little bit, so there is a paragraph about that part. Mostly they screwed things up though, because the Canadian version of D-Day is called Dieppe, and it’s famous for being the biggest gong show in World War II – that’s right, even worse than anything the French OR the Italians did.

But back to D-Day. I would like to set the record straight here, and remind everyone that D-Day was actually useless, in terms of overall war impact. I do not wish to anger veterans, or disrespect the members of our armed forces who served in the Second World War, or participated in D-Day. But the facts do not change – the end of the Second World War and the fall of Hitler was guaranteed by the time Tom Hanks wandered around the Norman countryside looking for Private Ryan (which is complete BS, by the way).

A quick tour of statistics will give you an idea of what I am trying to convey. While the exact numbers are still debated, most historians agree the total number of deaths during the Second World War was roughly 60 million. Of this 60 million, US war deaths are about 360,000. Or if you’re into percentages, about 0.6% of the total deaths. On the other hand, the Soviet Union suffered 27 millionish dead, which is about half, and more than any other nation on the face of the earth. In return, the Soviets inflicted roughly 5 million deaths on the Axis powers. While it is impossible to truly evaluate the number of Germans killed by American GI’s and B-52 bombers, trust me, the Soviets killed more.

Moving beyond pure numbers to a timeline, we find that the Soviet Union was invaded on June 22 1941, convenient, because it is almost 3 years to the day before D-Day, and the arrival of the Americans on the continent. The Soviet Union absorbed the entire brunt of the German armed forces alone for 3 whole years. While the Red Army and Stalin were getting dusted from Odessa to Novgorod to Voroshilovgrad, the world-saving Red, White and Blue were still debating about whether to lend the Brits some shit-ass boats, and thinking that perhaps letting the Russkies and the Nazi’s batter each other a bit would be good for the post-war world. Which lasted until the Japanese flattened Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. Why it took the U.S. another 3 years to get to Europe to save the free world and give Hitler his just desserts is a story for another day, but I will give you a hint and say it wasn’t because Joe Stalin didn’t ask once or twice.

So then we arrive at June 6, 1944, D-Day, the day the Western Allies return to France after being shown the door ignominiously four years earlier. Steven Spielberg is set to make millions, the plot of an entire level in Call of Duty is about to be constructed, and the American boys will roll across France and occupied Europe like a kid on a Razor scooter. Hitler finished, Nazi’s vanquished, dragons slain and all that, right? Wrong.

As of June 6, 1944 the Red Army had punished Hungary, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, and were rolling up Finland like a carpet. Furthermore, they were sweeping through Poland hell bent on getting to Berlin to Adolf himself. Massive advances tend to happen when you’re motivated by the fact that the enemy has no interest in taking prisoners, and did their best to wipe out your entire population and nation when they had the upper hand.

Recap: The Americans land in Normandy with 160,000 soldiers and are stuck on a tiny strip of beach while the Russians are ripping forward with thousands of tanks, millions of battle hardened troops, thousands of planes and shots of vodka, killing anything that even dares to utter the word bratwurst in front of them.

Despite what you may have seen or been told, the Americans did not change the course of World War II on D-Day. The war was decided – the Allies (actually, mostly the Russians) were going to win. Hitler was going to lose. The fate of the world was not decided on the beaches of France, it was decided at Stalingrad, at Kursk, and across the Eastern Front. The Western Front was created out of post-war considerations – the Western Allies needed a say in how Europe was divided, and they needed to get in on the action. The men who took part in D-Day are without a doubt brave heroes, but in this post-Cold War era, I think it is high-time we give the Russian and associated nations’ men and women their due. For starters, make a movie better then Enemy at the Gates, which is piss poor.

1 comment:

  1. Doesn't winter get a huge pat on the back for beating Zee Germans too? They got absolutely murdered by the cold when they were trying to take Moscow and just didn't have enough people and resources to have a go on both fronts once it got warm again.

    One of my other favourite subplots about the War in Europe is that the Germans had by far the most bad-ass equipment in the world, hands down, but it was all so specialized that they were crippled by the sheer number of spare parts they had to produce and keep on hand for repairs. Before WWI, something like 3/4 technical textbooks in the world were written in German.

    Here's a cool wikipedia article I just found:

    The Allies out-produced the Axis 3-4 to 1 in planes and tanks and 10:1 in ships. The only thing the Axis made more of was subs (and they made an eye-popping number; 1336 vs. only 86 destroyers).

    Maybe there's some accurate history evangelism in your future, young Jones.