Last evening, chatting about the D-Day invasion with my wife, and finding that we were fuzzy about certain details, we decided to search YouTube (aka The Anti-Conservative Censorship Gulag of Death) for a worthwhile documentary on the subject. Having at first chosen a recent BBC item, which the documentarian introduced by declaring that he was going to overturn some misconceptions about the relative success of the British and American roles in the attack — which is progressive code for “I’m an idiot, please watch something else” — we quickly switched over to a 1964 CBS News special originally aired in honor of the invasion’s twentieth anniversary.
Happily, this archive piece, though featuring both the absurd Dan Rather as voice-over narrator and the overblown Walter Cronkite as interviewer, consisted of nothing but a lengthy interview with Dwight D. Eisenhower, the supreme commander of the operation, conducted on location on the beaches of Normandy and at the command center in England.
The first thing one cannot help noticing about Eisenhower’s description of the events is how unembellished and generous is his account. Almost immediately, for example, he gives full credit for the original invasion plan to British general Fred Morgan. And throughout the interview, he never misses a chance to emphasize the leading contributions of various other men, Americans or Allies. (And contrary to the phony revisionism of the self-declared idiot from the modern BBC documentary, noted above, Eisenhower is emphatic about the great successes and ingenious contributions of the British forces and strategic leadership before, during, and after the initial invasion.)
But apart from the fascinating details and the matter-of-factness of Eisenhower’s conversational way of rifling through his memory for pertinent facts or interesting anecdotes, the final impression this viewer was left with was not actually related directly to the D-Day invasion itself. Rather, I could not help thinking, at the end of the program, “This man was a U.S. President.”
Today, after eight years of millions of morons in and out of the media insisting that Barack Obama was the greatest president of the twentieth century, and while currently watching millions of other morons in and out of the media insist that Donald Trump deserves that title, there is a tasty and sobering morsel of perspective in listening to General Eisenhower describe, humbly and thoughtfully, with completely down-to-earth humanity, his leadership of the largest military operation of its kind in world history, his feelings at the enormity of the stakes in that event, and his concerns at the time, practical and moral, about the inevitable trials and losses entailed in such a momentous undertaking.
None of that makes Eisenhower a great president as such. But it makes him a man of substance, a man of real achievement and seriousness, rather than a trivial, self-promoting product of an idol-worshipping age of propagandistic demagoguery and reality television iconography. In short, it makes him a hundred times the man that non-entities like Obama or Trump could even recognize, let alone hope to match in human worth.
Donald Trump was born two years after D-Day, and turned fourteen while Ike was still in the White House. If this reflection does not give you a lamentably sharp perspective on the fate of America over the past three generations, then nothing will.
Here, if you haven’t seen it and have an interest, is the CBS News documentary: