D-Day and historical amnesia
By John Nebauer
For the benefit of those who have contrived somehow to leave the planet for a while, June 6 marked the 50th anniversary of the landing of the western allies on the beaches of Normandy.
It has been hailed as "the decisive battle of the war", and has led various heads of state and government such as Bill Clinton, Paul Keating and Elizabeth II, along with many of those who took part in those landings, to journey to the Norman coast for a series of ceremonies to mark the occasion. Any event which attracts so many heads of capitalist states must be fundamentally flawed somewhere.
Quite so. The ceremonies are not designed to commemorate an important date in the struggle against German fascism. They are to help people forget the lessons of the war and, most importantly, who bore its heaviest burden.
The D-Day landings were not the decisive act of the war. The outcome of the war had been largely decided in the previous year on the battlefields of Stalingrad and Kursk, and had been won by the Soviet Union, an entity the establishment press would like us to forget ever existed.
The invasion of Normandy was certainly an impressive feat of organisation, with 1.5 million troops being transported by 3000 landing craft and 500 warships. At the beginning of the operation the Anglo-American forces had an immense superiority over the Germans — 3:1 in troops and tanks, more than 2:1 in artillery and 60:1 in warplanes. This Allied superiority was the result of the military defeats the Soviet Union had inflicted on Nazi Germany in the months before the Normandy landing.
In the early months of 1944, the USSR launched a powerful offensive which routed over 170 German divisions. From January to May 1944 the Nazi command was forced to transfer 40 divisions from Germany and France to the eastern front. Thus, at the beginning of the Anglo-American operation at Normandy, the Wehrmacht had 58 divisions in France, Belgium and Holland as against 239 divisions on the Soviet-German front.
But even with the immense superiority the Anglo-American forces enjoyed over the Germans at the beginning of their invasion of France, their advance was extremely slow. By July 25, 1944, the Anglo-American forces had established a strategic beachhead 30-50 kilometres deep and 100 kilometres across, having destroyed 116,000 German officers and troops. That same day, Soviet troops reached the Vistula River, 600 kilometres from Berlin, having breached German defences to a depth of 600 kilometres along 1000-kilometre front. The German forces lost more than half a million officers and troops to the Soviet offensive which began on June 6.
This is not to denigrate the bravery of those who fought during the Normandy invasion, nor indeed any of those who were unfortunate enough to see action on the western front. Western forces faced a formidable opponent, and British and US troops fought with courage and skill.
But just how "decisive" the Anglo-American invasion of France was to the outcome of the war, compared with the Soviet military effort, can be judged by the alignment of German forces after the Normandy landing. In September 1944, no more than 700,000 German troops confronted the Western Allies. On the eastern front, 4.3 million Axis troops were deployed against the Soviet army. Even by the beginning of 1945, 68.5% of Germany's 5.4 million troops were deployed on the eastern front.
The Nazi command suffered its heaviest losses on the Soviet-German front: more than 75% of its officers and troops, 75% of its tanks and aircraft, 74% of its artillery.
The sheer scale of the operations indicates that the decisive battles of the war took place on the eastern front, and that the bulk of the war effort was borne, on the one hand by the peoples of German-occupied Europe, and on the other the peoples of the USSR, whose human cost was more than 20 million dead.
The Western press has also largely forgotten the role of the European resistance movement in tying down quite a number of Axis divisions in security operations. It has forgotten that these movements were by and large led by the Communist parties of the respective countries.
Why the attempt to induce mass amnesia? The establishment press has a number of motives. The first is to hide the fact that, for the US and Britain, World War II was not just about the "liberation of Europe from fascist rule". If it had been, they would also have invaded Spain to oust the Franco dictatorship.
If Western powers were truly interested in remembering the defeat of Nazi Germany, the Western press and Western leaders would have spent much of 1993 in the former Soviet Union to remember the decisive battles fought there.
For the US, the war in Europe and the Pacific marked its transition to the world's hegemonic capitalist country. For the British ruling class, it was about retaining as much of the empire as possible, a policy which in any case began to unravel almost with the war's end.
Obscuring the historical record is also intended to make people forget that many of those who fought fascism were fighting not just a defensive war but for a socialist future. They believed that by fighting for socialism they were fighting for a better world.
The establishment press trumpets the idea that rulers of the West fought World War II to save freedom and democracy. But the fact that the war ended with capitalism preserved in western Europe created a legacy which includes millions of unemployed in the capitalist heartlands and millions of deaths by starvation in the Third World. It threatens destruction through environmental collapse. It has delivered wars somewhere on the planet on every day of every year since 1945.
No wonder the powers that be want to make people forget that the ideal of socialism is capable of inspiring millions.