Column: America’s leadership indispensable to freedom

Paul Dimond

Given the president’s equivocations in some foreign policy matters, it’s become even clearer: only by continuing to lead the free world, including at home, will America ever be first.

President Trump’s visit to Paris and Napoleon’s Tomb in July to celebrate Bastille Day and the 100th anniversary of U.S. entry into WWI offers the opportunity to reflect on the meaning of a far more significant date and burial ground in France to the future of the United Sates: D-Day, June 6, 1944, and the Normandy American Cemetery.

We also joined the Second World War late, upon the Japanese attack of Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. Across the Atlantic, Churchill’s Britain then stood as the only bulwark on the west and Russia’s masses on the east against Hitler’s Nazi Germany expanding its Aryan reign of terror all across Europe to Asia and its Axis partner Japan. By the spring of 1944, the tide had turned with the Russian troops advancing west into Eastern Europe and the American-led Allies advancing north into Italy and west across the Pacific. Yet Hitler’s Atlantic Wall of fortifications still had to be breached for France and the rest of Western Europe to be spared the awful choice between Hitler’s fascist rule and Stalin’s communist dictatorship.

To see the German bunkers, artillery and machine guns dug into the hills above the Normandy beaches and to relive the 150,000 allied troops invading by sea, air and land through the hail of enemy fire is a moving experience:

“I close my eyes to picture that chaotic day: landing crafts laden with equipment, and waves and waves of soldiers, who storm this beach while enemy guns thunder. Brave rangers scale the cliffs, at catastrophic cost, to silence their roar. Paratroopers float through cloud cover, vulnerable to bullets that pierce the night. They land behind enemy lines in fields and bogs, farther from their rendezvous point than planned. I hear the chirp of ‘crickets’ as they seek comrades and pray for one snagged by a church spire.” (Martha Buhr Grimes)

The first day was hell: over 10,000 Allied casualties, with 4,414 paying with their lives.

At the end of my first day visiting, I walked the Normandy American Cemetery on a peaceful bluff overlooking Omaha Beach. U.S. families chose to bury 9,387 of their kin killed in WWII beneath row on row of white markers, while another 1,557 are remembered on the Walls of the Missing. One picture is worth a thousand words.

It reminds me of what D-Day continues to mean: For all my 73 years, I have been blessed to live in the U.S. in comparative peace and prosperity, as more freedom and democracy spread throughout our nation, much of Europe (including Germany) and the Pacific Rim (including Japan) and substantial parts of the rest of the Americas, Asia and Africa. Yes, we continue to face real challenges, not the least slow productivity and wage growth and violence from hell-bent terrorists, at home and abroad. But these pale in comparison to the challenges those who landed on the Normandy beaches met on June 6, 1944.

Once elected president, Eisenhower — the Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces in the Victory in Europe — promptly ended the Korean War and warned that we should never get bogged down in a land war in Asia. Despite ignoring Ike’s sound military advice in three protracted wars since, let us never forget that 14 years after the Vietnam War President Reagan led our democratic allies to win the Cold War against the Soviet Union without firing a shot.

Trump has also been so blessed for all his 71 years: how can he disrespect this legacy by claiming that the United States has somehow become “the laughing stock of the world” and “weak”? Ever since D-Day, the U.S. has been the indispensable nation leading the Free World; and American families and firms continue to be prime beneficiaries of the resulting freedom and prosperity. Yet the president belittles our democratic allies and bashes the agreements and alliances forged with them by all 12 of his predecessors since WWII while toadying up to autocratic dictators and royal rulers. Such indefensible action desecrates all those who fought to defend freedom and democracy, at home and abroad, three generations ago.

Paul Dimond is author of the recently published historical novel The Belle of Two Arbors, 1913-1953, and practices law in Ann Arbor.