D-Day Baloney

June 07, 1994|By CARL T. ROWAN

WASHINGTON — Washington. -- Why am I put off by all the hoopla, the nostalgia born of amnesia, the myriad revisions of history in the celebration of the invasion of Normandy?

In part, I guess, because I have never liked calling D-Day ''the climactic battle of World War II'' -- not when so many bloody battles were yet to be fought in the South Pacific.

What galls me most is the tendency to portray Americans of 1944 as a better breed of patriots, with GI Joe and Rosie the Riveter bound by heart and soul in a never-questioned crusade against the enemy. We are supposed to believe that no rich, privileged Americans manipulated the system in those days to get deferments, officers' commissions or assignments far from the battles of France, Saipan or Iwo Jima. We are asked to believe that profiteering and gouging were not commonplace in America 50 years ago. Baloney!

I was in the Navy 50 years ago, fighting a side war to change our Jim Crow military so it would not look as though it was run by Adolf Hitler's ''Aryan supremacists.'' I remember Franklin D. Roosevelt's largely futile efforts to get Rosie the Riveter, union bosses, defense-industry honchos, to allow blacks to help make the ammunition, build the tanks and planes and sew the uniforms that the nation needed desperately.

The America of today, the U.S. military of today, is so much better and stronger socially, morally and economically than it was in 1944 that some of the current ''good old days'' talk is absurd. Not many of the men who stormed the beaches of Normandy thought they were fighting for an integrated Army, or for voting rights and the other fruits of full citizenship for black Americans.

Particularly pernicious are the suggestions that patriotism is dead or dying now because Americans are not as willing to send their sons to battle in Bosnia, Haiti, Rwanda or North Korea as they were to send them to Normandy.

The truth, unpalatable perhaps, is that Americans were more gullible in 1944 than they are today. Millions really believed their sons would ''make the world safe for democracy,'' or were fighting ''the war to end all wars,'' or that we would win because God was on our side. Hitler was a godless foe, easy to hate.

But the intervening years have brought a Korean war with many thousands of U.S. casualties; a Vietnam war of even more deaths and manglings, but an end far short of victory for the U.S.; and military ventures of dubious merit and morality in Grenada, Panama, the Persian Gulf and Somalia.

Americans of 1994 have painful reasons to be skeptical, even to shout ''No!'' when their leaders say ''Let's you and them fight.''

President Bush succeeded in demonizing Iraq's Saddam JTC Hussein to the point where millions of Americans thought of him as another Hitler. Kim Il Sung of North Korea stands a chance of being portrayed as the current great menace to mankind. But the fact is that the U.S. has not had a world-class enemy to hate and fear since Nikita Khrushchev ruled the ''Evil Empire'' of Soviet communism. Leonid Brezhnev, Mikhail Gorbachev and Boris Yeltsin have seemed like pussycats instead of raging bears.

But tainted nostalgia is healthier than the frantic search for a new, great enemy of America. So let the old gangs gather in Britain and France and lift a few glasses of ale to memories, even those refurbished and gilded by time. After all, the experience of Vietnam and the existence of horrible nuclear weapons just about guarantee that America will never again be involved in anything as massive or mutilating as the assault at Normandy.

Carl T. Rowan is a syndicated columnist.

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