Sunday, June 06, 2004

A good spin improves with age

Spin, like good wine, can improve with age.

So it is with the Normandy landings, of which the West celebrates the 60th anniversary today. The heroism of the brave soldiers who landed that day is being celebrated and much is being said about the importance of the battle.

The battle "turned the tide of WW II", said George Bush yesterday. "One of the most decisive battles in history", according to the Associated Press. Not to be outdone, the Ottawa Citizen calls it "the greatest invasion in history".

That spin is so entrenched in North American culture such statements are rarely challenged.

In June 1944, Hitler's murderous empire was besieged from all sides. German armies had been pushed out of Africa. They've been soundly defeated before Moscow, Kiev and Stalingrad the year before. All they could hope for in Italy was to make the Allies pay dearly for each mile they gained. The question was not if Germany would be defeated, but when.

As the Allied bravely confronted 58 German divisions in the West, the Russians were plowing through the 228 divisions before them, thanks in part to American vehicules and supplies. For the Germans too, the Normandy landings were merely "the second front": they transferred no assets from the East to the West to meet this new threat.

The allies readily acknoledged this reality back then. Allied Forces Supreme Commander and President-to-be Dwight Eisenhower talked about hastening the end of the war, not single-handedly fighting the Nazi juggernaut. It's only after the end of that war and the beginning of another - the Cold War - that the myth of the Battle of Normandy as a world-changing event took form. The Cold War is over, but the myth stays with us.

A wildly successful spin. Still, it seems to me the memory of those who fought on the beaches and the bocage country of Normandy could be properly honoured without hyping the battle as the most important event in Human history.

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