The 75th anniversary of D-Day has come and gone. The speeches are delivered. The dignitaries have returned home. But my heart is still in Normandy as I hold sand scooped from once bloody beaches.
The largest naval armada ever assembled drove into the teeth of Germany’s Atlantic Wall. No one had ever seen an invasion force of this magnitude, yet it gained little territory. In the end, the allies held only 172.5 acres of Normandy.
They were not fighting for land. They were fighting for civilization – a way of life. They kept only enough land to bury their dead: 9,388 heroes.
Where else in the annals of history do we find such a deed? Many have fought to expand territory, to exact tribute, or out of duty to some treaty. But the allies fought for none of these reasons. They fought for civilization itself.
Civilization derives from the Latin “civitas,” meaning city. It comprises the institutions and ideas that unite families into community. Family bonds are natural. But the bonds that tie family to family must be cultivated.
That’s why the first and most basic building block of civilization is the family. Cities are not made up by random men, women and children. Cities are built by fathers and mothers, sons and daughters who build homes, businesses and a shared infrastructure to benefit their families.
Civilization, therefore, rests on two pillars. First, it supports and protects individual families. Second, it treats all families of equal importance. Governance that fails in either respect destroys, rather than builds civilization.
Germany’s National Socialists were destroyers of civilization because they were destroyers of family. It began with the T4 program that secretly euthanized elderly fathers and mothers in state sanitariums and went on to kill disabled veterans.
Next, they set family against family. “Kristallnacht,” the night of broken glass, set hooligans loose to destroy Jewish businesses, homes and synagogues. Soon enough, storm troopers divided those families by taking them to separate concentration camps.
For the moment, so-called Aryan families were spared this forced separation. Nevertheless, they were divided by more insidious means. The Hitler Youth indoctrinated German children with lies and turned them into informants against their own families. The National Socialist regime was pure evil. It was not just a different kind of civilization. It was no civilization at all.
D-Day speeches through the years have repeatedly claimed that the fight was for civilization itself. But as our own civilization is undermined, that sounds increasingly like a quaint platitude.
We are saturated with entertainment and education that breathes the air of moral relativism. Our children are told that there is no objective good or evil. Absent the foundation to discern a good choice from a bad one, choice itself becomes the end-all and be-all.
The more deeply this indoctrination sinks into the national psyche, the more difficult it is to understand why D-Day happened, at all. The uncommon valor that became common on the beaches of Normandy baffles us. In a world were good and evil are forgotten categories, civilization can no longer be distinguished from barbarism.
On the 75th anniversary of D-Day, President Trump gave a speech that drew praise from his harshest critics. In it, he vividly recounted the heroism of great men. But more, he elucidated the spirit that drove them on.
At the climax of the speech, he said, “The exceptional might came from a truly exceptional spirit. The abundance of courage came from an abundance of faith. The great deeds of an Army came from the great depths of their love.” This is exactly right.
The graves in Normandy are marked by 9,239 Latin crosses and 149 stars of David. Both testify that these men were driven on by a common worldview. The uncommon valor, so common on D-Day, arose from a shared idea that no civilization is – or can be – a god unto itself.
People are civilized by acknowledging a common duty to the One who created all. Natural love binds families together. But family can only be bound to other families by acknowledging a common creator. In such a civilization, laws are not created by rulers, they are discovered in creation itself and acknowledged by the common consent of the people.
While the Cross of Jesus and the Star of David stand for widely different views of who the Creator is, both acknowledge “one nation under God.” Civilization starts there.
After commemorating the 75th anniversary of the day that saved western civilization, let us set our minds on understanding the civilization they fought for. That is the best way we can honor the dead. Only by regaining the clear vision of good and evil that inspired them, can we fight as heroically in our own generation to preserve civilization for the next.