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Sunday Pages: "In Case of Failure"
A note by Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower
If December 7, 1941, is a day that lives in infamy, then June 6, 1944 is the glorious opposite: D-Day, the date of the Allied invasion of Normandy. The landing involved some 5,000 ships, 11,000 planes, and 150,000 men, and comprised the largest and most complex air-, sea-, and land operation ever attempted, before or since. D-Day opened a much-needed second front against Nazi Germany, and marked the beginning of the end of World War II in Europe.
Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower had assumed command of the operation five months earlier. He picked the date of the invasion—June 5—and oversaw the massive disinformation campaign designed to trick the Nazis into thinking the attack would be at Calais, 250 miles to the north. But when the day came, the weather was shit. He decided to hold off for 24 hours. The next day, June 6, didn’t look so hot, either. But after consulting with meteorologists and, one assumes, the Almighty, Ike gave the go-ahead. “I hope to God I’m right,” he muttered to his driver.
(Note: at my job, I am in charge of deciding when to close the office for inclement weather. I take this responsibility very seriously. If I get that stressed out contemplating when to declare a snow day, I can only imagine the pressure on Eisenhower to make what was, without a doubt, the most consequential weather-related war decision of all time.)
The job of defending the Atlantic coast against Allied invasion fell to Erwin Rommel, the so-called Desert Fox. The Nazis were so sure that nothing was going to happen on June 6 that the top German brass took leave that day. Rommel was hundreds of miles away from the front, celebrating his wife’s birthday (insert “This gathering could have been an e-mail” meme.)
When he heard about the attack, the skies were already under Allied control, so Rommel had to drive to Normandy. This took hours. If you’ve ever fucked up at your job, Dear Reader, take heart; I assure you, you didn’t fuck up as badly as the Desert Fox did on D-Day, watching his wife blow out candles while six Allied divisions—three American, two British, and one Canadian—stormed the beachhead hundreds of miles away. I can’t even imagine how excruciating that car ride must have been, even for a morally-bankrupt turd like Rommel; may all Nazis feel that agonizing sting of fatal failure. (Making matters worse, Rommel’s boss was literally Hitler, who subsequently insisted that Rommel either off himself or be executed for treason. He chose the former.)
By the time the Desert Fox arrived at the battlefield, the battle—and, arguably, the war—was lost. With the Germans already actively engaged with the Russians on the Eastern front, the Allies established a toehold at Normandy, pouring men and matériel into France. By August, Paris was liberated from Nazi clutches. Within a year, Hitler was dead, and the war in Europe over.
But D-Day was hardly a sure thing. Eisenhower was worried about the weather. He was worried that the Nazis would get tipped off about the invasion. He was worried that such an audacious amphibious operation would fail. And he was tormented by the fact that at his command, many of the fresh-faced troops he’d addressed that day would not survive. The night before the invasion, Ike sat down and wrote, by hand, a note that he would dispatch in the event of failure:
Our landings in the Cherbourg-Havre area have failed to gain a satisfactory foothold and I have withdrawn the troops. My decision to attack at this time and place was based upon the best information available. The troops, the air and the Navy did all that bravery and devotion to duty could do. If any blame or fault attaches to the attempt it is mine alone.
The last two words are underlined (not crossed out).
Great leaders have great character. Eisenhower accepted that D-Day might be a bust, he planned for its failure, and, most importantly, he took full responsibility for the decision. It is mine alone. There is no passive voice. There are no weasel words. He does not blame Crooked Hillary, the Deep State, George Soros, China, or any other convenient boogeyman. In a word, he demonstrated honor.
However you may feel about Joe Biden’s record, this is a quality that our current president possesses. He is a man of honor. It is why the MAGA attempts to demonize him always poop out. And it is a quality foreign to Trump, or Ron DeSantis (despite all those hype videos), or Mike Pence, or any of the other GOP presidential hopefuls. Grifters have no honor. Sycophants have no honor. Fascists have no honor. And this is why, like the Nazis eight decades ago, they will be defeated. This is why we shall prevail.
On Friday’s The Five 8, Stephanie Koff and I inverted the formula: eight topics, five minutes each. We talked about Pride, Paxton, Trump documents, Neurolink, and the endings of “Ted Lasso” and “Succession.” And we had a surprise guest—in the truest sense of the word!
Thanks to Whitney McKnight for having me on her wonderful, thought-provoking podcast, docu-mental. She wanted to discuss poetry, and in particular, what my intention is for these “Sunday Pages.” Always great to chat with her:
THE EASTERN FRONT
My friend Zarina Zabrisky is prominently featured in a new film about Ukraine: The Eastern Front: Terror and Torture in Ukraine, a war documentary directed by Byline TV filmmaker Caolan Robertson that also features the British war correspondent John Sweeney (Killer in the Kremlin) and the British war photographer Paul Conroy (A Private War, Under the Wire).
The Eastern Front goes beyond mere reportage. To portray the harsh realities of those living in Donbas and Kherson, the filmmakers follow a rescue operation fleeing the war-torn Bakhmut area and follow a group of volunteers delivering drinking water to Siversk, the town on the frontline. They get under fire and continue reporting. Visceral and blunt, the film emphasizes the gravity of the situation in Ukraine—a full-scale invasion at the whim of a genocidal dictator.
Premier events are being held this month in Kyiv, London, San Francisco, and Los Angeles. The L.A. event is hosted by Zarina and my friend Heidi Cuda. Proceeds from the US event will go toward water relief in the war-ravaged city of Siversk in Donbas, where 2,000 mostly elderly people remain, as revealed in the film. If you’re in Hollywood, please check it out.
Photo credit: Library of Congress. General Eisenhower talking with American paratroopers on the evening of June 5, 1944, as they prepare for the Battle of Normandy. The men are part of Company E, 502nd Parachute Infantry Regiment, at the 101st Airborne Division’s camp in Greenham Common, England.