Obama at Normandy
In a low-key, low-energy, almost listless speech, President Obama addressed world leaders, veterans, and the invited public about the D-Day landings 70 years ago today.
ABC News has some excerpts:
“These men waged war so that we might know peace. They sacrificed so that we might be free. They fought in hopes of a day when we’d no longer need to fight. We are grateful to them,” President Obama said to sustained applause at the Normandy American Cemetery.
It was here, on these shores, that the tide was turned in that common struggle for freedom,” Obama said. “What more powerful manifestation of America’s commitment to human freedom than the sight of wave after wave of young men boarding those boats to liberate people they’d never met?”
With World War II veterans seated behind him, the president described the tense scenes of the day when over 150,000 allied troops invaded the shores of Normandy 70 years ago.
“If prayer were made of sound, the skies over England that night would have deafened the world,” the president said. “Captains paced their decks. Pilots tapped their gauges. Commanders pored over maps, fully aware that for all the months of meticulous planning, everything could go wrong: the winds, the tides, the element of surprise – and above all, the audacious bet that what waited on the other side of the Channel would compel men not to shrink away, but to charge ahead.”
“Fresh-faced GIs rubbed trinkets, kissed pictures of sweethearts, checked and re-checked their equipment. ‘God,’ asked one, ‘Give me guts.’ And in the pre-dawn hours, planes rumbled down runways; gliders and paratroopers slipped through the sky; giant screws began to turn on an armada that looked like more ships than sea. And more than 150,000 souls set off towards this tiny sliver of sand upon which hung more than the fate of a war, but the course of human history,” he said.
President Obama tied the commitment of the World War II veterans to the service of the 9/11 generation.
“This 9/11 Generation of service members – they, too, felt some tug; they answered some call; they said ‘I’ll go.’ They too chose to serve a cause that’s greater than self; many even after they knew they’d be sent into harm’s way. And for more than a decade, they have endured tour after tour,” he said.
The 9/11 generation joined an all-volunteer army. In World War II, about 40% (6.3 million out of 17 million) of our forces were volunteers. The rest were drafted.
Five American presidents have made the pilgrimage to Normandy to commerate our dead. And no president made a greater impact, or moved more people than Ronald Reagan's extraordinary address on the 40th anniversary of D-Day in 1984.
We stand on a lonely, windswept point on the northern shore of France. The air is soft, but forty years ago at this moment, the air was dense with smoke and the cries of men, and the air was filled with the crack of rifle fire and the roar of cannon. At dawn, on the morning of the 6th of June, 1944, two hundred and twenty-five Rangers jumped off the British landing craft and ran to the bottom of these cliffs.
Their mission was one of the most difficult and daring of the invasion: to climb these sheer and desolate cliffs and take out the enemy guns. The Allies had been told that some of the mightiest of these guns were here, and they would be trained on the beaches to stop the Allied advance.
The Rangers looked up and saw the enemy soldiers at the edge of the cliffs, shooting down at them with machine guns and throwing grenades. And the American Rangers began to climb. They shot rope ladders over the face of these cliffs and began to pull themselves up. When one Ranger fell, another would take his place. When one rope was cut, a Ranger would grab another and begin his climb again. They climbed, shot back, and held their footing. Soon, one by one, the Rangers pulled themselves over the top, and in seizing the firm land at the top of these cliffs, they began to seize back the continent of Europe. Two hundred and twenty-five came here. After two days of fighting, only ninety could still bear arms.
And behind me is a memorial that symbolizes the Ranger daggers that were thrust into the top of these cliffs. And before me are the men who put them there. These are the boys of Pointe du Hoc. These are the men who took the cliffs. These are the champions who helped free a continent. And these are the heroes who helped end a war. Gentlemen, I look at you and I think of the words of Stephen Spender's poem. You are men who in your "lives fought for life and left the vivid air signed with your honor."
Obama supporters will claim that it's unfair to compare his remarks with those of Reagan. Nonsense. Obama made his bones based on his supposed superiority in his ability to communicate. But lately, Obama seems disinterested, subdued, even bothered sometimes during his speeches.
Here's the video. I challenge any American, right or left, liberal or conservative, to watch this video and not get choked up.
One last quote from The Gipper's speech. Can you imagine Obama saying this?
The men of Normandy had faith that what they were doing was right, faith that they fought for all humanity, faith that a just God would grant them mercy on this beachhead, or on the next. It was the deep knowledge -- and pray God we have not lost it -- that there is a profound moral difference between the use of force for liberation and the use of force for conquest. You were here to liberate, not to conquer, and so you and those others did not doubt your cause. And you were right not to doubt.
You all knew that some things are worth dying for. One's country is worth dying for, and democracy is worth dying for, because it's the most deeply honorable form of government ever devised by man. All of you loved liberty. All of you were willing to fight tyranny, and you knew the people of your countries were behind you.
Could any American president in the future utter these simple, declarative words, imparting simple moral precepts? Or are we doomed to a future of moral relativism, having lost the clarity of thought about what was truly important that served us so well for so long?
I pray it is not so.