D-Day, 70 Years Later: Why Millennials Need To Be Responsible For Remembering The Past

by Charlotte Phillips

Imagine -- June 6, 1944. World War II had ravaged the world for five years: lives had been lost, territories ceded, ideological clashes met head-on. Initial German successes floundered, with their defeat at Stalingrad in 1943.

And then, on June 6, 1944 -- a date now etched into public memory -- D-Day, the allied forces – 130,00 of them -- landed at Normandy, establishing five beachheads, code-named Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno and Sword. In so doing, the allies entered German-occupied territory, allowing them to recapture Western Europe.

Approximately, 12,000 allied lives were lost that day, mostly at Omaha; it was a huge naval victory and the result of years of wartime planning. (Although D-Day was initially planned for June 5, and was delayed due to poor weather.) D-Day significantly contributed to the end of the Second World War in 1945.

I’m embarrassed to admit that while I knew some of those facts, I was definitely hazy on the details of the event that occurred exactly 70 years ago today.

Embarrassed, because I’m much better versed on much more trivial things. Embarrassed, because I am Jewish, and the Holocaust has been so much a part of my cultural upbringing, and the Jewish collective psyche, but it is easy to forget the details and overarching War surrounding it.

Since D-Day, there has never again been a moment like it, and as such, D-Day marked a turning point in modern warfare. Not simply because it was the largest seaborne invasion ever, but because of its greater significance: 2.5 percent of the world’s population – 60,000,000 people -- died throughout World War II, including 407,000 American military deaths.

The massive loss of life in World War II, the countries and families and homes left devastated, staring evil in the face, presented a reluctance to enter such large-scale catastrophic warfare ever again. In the collective Western human consciousness, it remains a truly poignant moment of the sentiment, "never again."

My grandfather was a little boy during World War II. (When we were younger, he regaled my cousins, siblings and me with war hero stories of his fighter pilot days.

I was roughly 15 when I realized he’d been about 5 years old at the outbreak of war.) In reality, my grandfather, who lived in Dalston, then a poor Jewish immigrant area of London, was evacuated, like many other children.

He lived through a time of uncertainty, away from his family, and went on to attend boarding school in Taunton, outside of London. My maternal great grandparents escaped Nazi-occupied Europe to come to London, though much of their family perished in the Holocaust.

I feel proud to be British, proud to be part of a nation that declared in 1940 that it would fight on the beaches -- and so we did, at D-Day.

The Western world was united on D-Day; it was a military victory, but also a moral one, of good against evil, democracy against fascism, life against death.

Without the D-Day landings and subsequent allied victory, it is no overstatement to say our lives would not be the same.

In 2014, there is much we take for granted, from iPhones and international travel, to the far more fundamental notion of freedom: from freedom of press to freedom of speech, from exercising political will to freedom of religion.

While it is easy to forget, it is equally easy to remember -- possibly today more than ever. We have the Internet, we have the History channel, we have museums.

If we use these tools for good, we can be fully aware and informed of what came before us, and armed with that knowledge, we will also (we hope) understand where we are going.

The more we know, the more we can do. History repeating itself may be something of a cliché, yet recent anti-Semitic demonstrations and the political climate in France show startling parallels with Nazi Germany.

A record 1,407 Jews left France for Israel in the first few months of this year, largely driven away by feeling uncomfortable and unwanted, or even attacked, due to their religion.

The historians in us are uncomfortably reminded of pogroms and lootings, of the Nuremberg Laws restricting Jews in Nazi Germany and of the Nazi aim of a “Judenfrei”  -- Jew-free – Reich.

The current situation is terrifying, and it has happened before. If history and remembering the past can be utilized today, it is as a means of foresight and prevention.

In some way, we all have a personal connection to the Second World War and D-Day, possibly the most significant turning point for an allied victory.

If you truly can’t find a personal connection, educate yourself for the sake of education. We are so fortunate to have survivors still alive, and we must make the most of their stories and recollections.

Today, President Obama is in France, honoring the veterans who fought for freedom on the beaches. He told listeners that the stories of survivors should be “seared into the memory.”

We are the last generation who will be able to hear the event recalled firsthand, and that privilege is a responsibility. It is up to us to inform ourselves, remember and pass it on. Their legacy becomes ours.

History is something bigger than us. It came before us and it will unfold after us, a constant link between our ancestors, ourselves and our children.

Two years ago, as an History student at Bristol University in the UK, I found myself forced to answer the question: Why should one study history? The seventieth anniversary of D-Day reminds me exactly why. So that we do not become ungrateful, and forget the losses incurred on our behalf.

So we do not forget how truly evil people in masses can be. And that so we can be alerted to forces of evil gathering strength, and know to combat it.

Lest we forget.

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