D-Day Lessons Can Help Teach Us Lessons on Gaza

As we recently celebrated the Allied May 8, 1945 victory in Europe and get ready to celebrate the 80th anniversary of the June 6, 1944, landing in Normandy, there are lessons to be learned.

With Memorial Day coming up and to gain insight into current events — particularly the war in Gaza, where human suffering has dominated media coverage and headlines for months—it can be eye-opening to take a different look: a look through history’s lens because what people have done is a critical clue as to what people can do.

Let’s look back at World War II, specifically August 1944, when the suffering could have been stopped. Paris had been liberated, and deaths in American combat were limited to fewer than 30,000, with the German army taking a heavy toll on millions of civilian and military lives lost, both at the hands of the Soviet Union and on the Western front. 

Only two months earlier, the landing in Normandy established Germany no longer had a European continent stranglehold. 

Further, there existed a German movement to change leadership, which culminated in the July 1944 Operation Valkyrie to assassinate Adolf Hitler.

We should stop and think.

What would have happened if there had been a cease-fire in August 1944 — that led to the end of the war?

Imagine a swell of pressure from U.S. college campuses for a cease-fire. Leading scholars, particularly in history and military strategy, would predict the dire consequences of the prolonged conflict, predicting millions more casualties.

You can imagine the chants. “Germany has suffered genocidal attacks with millions dead,” and “Time has come to let them have the land.”

Nazi banners would appear in the crowds and claim France stole land from Germany following the First World War. Protesters would speak of hundreds of thousands or millions of German families ridden with disease and starving.

A movement like that would have been more plausible because, by this time, American lives and America were no longer under German threat, and the U.S. needed to focus its military on the war with Japan.

Following the war, we can see how the dismal forecasts were correct. From August of 1944 until the victory in Europe, millions of more lives in Germany were lost, and the United States counted around 150,000 war dead.

There wasn’t a cease-fire, and no demonstration on any university campus called for a cease-fire.

What lessons can be learned from this 20th-century perspective?

Well, wars are painful, ugly, and often — or one could say always — result in avoidable deaths.

Nonetheless, it wasn’t conceivable that the Allies would have ceased their fire even if Harry Truman and Franklin Roosevelt had faced massive opposition to the continuation of the war.

Why is that?

Because the Nazi’s goal — beyond expansion geographically — was to destroy gypsies, homosexuals, Jews, the mentally challenged, and races considered to be inferior and to persecute and conquer nations and peoples.

Even if a cease-fire could have saved millions of lives, when a country is attacked, it’s frequently too easy to shout it should acquiesce and not retaliate. Even when retaliation, noted by the above figures, can be cruel.

In the case of the Gaza war, the world should now understand civilization’s danger as we know it comes from what terrorist Hamas did on October 7 and, therefore, what Hamas has decided to continue to do, which is to repeat over and over the torture, rape, and slaughter of innocent civilians to destroy Israel.

We can rightfully expect that this type of understanding would reach university campuses, where students are allegedly prepared to become the next generation’s leaders.

It shouldn’t be forgotten that the apparent absurdity of calling for what would be a unilateral cease-fire should never lessen or obscure our empathy for war victims, whether they are Palestinians suffering in Gaza or innocent civilian victims during World War II.

It also shouldn’t discourage an effort to halt war through international political and economic pressure if directed against the real aggressor and, during this specific war, directed at the hostage release and the replacement of Hamas with a robust alliance with Saudi Arabia to rebuild Gaza. 

It should be apparent to all of us who hold that Western values are worthy of defense and that death and fighting can stop when the aggressive who takes civilian hostages and pursues the destruction of another country and its people is either neutralized or defeated.