I have been catching up on some podcasts that discussed D-Day with historians, as well as getting firsthand recollections from veterans. Aside from of course the usual (and very apropos) observations of how harrowing the experience was, there were two things that struck me:
–Over and over it is stated that this amphibious invasion was the key to the Germans’ ultimate defeat in the war. I really wonder how much of a side-eye the Russians must be giving us, if they are paying attention to all this hype. A lot more accurate would be to say that it saved a lot of Russian lives as well as saving a lot of Western Europeans from ending up behind the Iron Curtain. This had to be a major motivation for the Western Allies, even as Ike’s D-Day message takes pains to refer to “our great allies” in the USSR–ironic that he gave more credit to them at that time then historians seem to have done in retrospect, even though the evidence is so clear.
–By necessity, the firsthand accounts we now hear are from veterans who were very young at the time of the landing, and so we are getting the low ranking infantry perspective. But I can’t remember hearing much from mid-level officers at the time of their big 50th anniversary. It seems that the media have always gravitated towards those green recruits. Or at least that strikes me as true the past few times the decades anniversary has been celebrated; I did hear clips from the Mike Wallace interview of Ike on the 20th anniversary, which was before I was born–and all the prominent high brass would have been gone by the time I was aware of these anniversaries. But I think it would have been interesting to hear 20 or 30 years ago from veterans who were young doughboys in World War I, and subsequently made a career out of the military and were sergeants or majors or colonels by 1944.
Okay, here’s a cite on the question although from a slightly different angle. It doesn’t shock me that Americans flatter themselves to imagine that our country was the decisive victor. However, I do find it more surprising that a huge shift in French public opinion has taken place over the decades.
For those who don’t read French, the survey question translates roughly as “Which nation, in your view, contributed most to the defeat of Germany in 1945?” Between May 1945 and June 2004, French public opinion flipped almost perfectly: from 20% crediting the U.S. and 57% the USSR, to 58% for the U.S. and 20% for the USSR.
I tend to think the 1945 respondents have more credibility, having been there and responding this way even though* the troops who actually liberated France were not Soviet*. That’s pretty amazing, as is the very poor job the Russians seem to have done in intervening decades in reinforcing this judgement in France (and, one suspects, in the West in general).
So maybe “serious” historians know the truth. But if most Westerners do not, isn’t that still significant (and kinda messed up)?