[On the 40th anniversary of the Normandy landings, Ronald Reagan] spoke of how the rangers had scaled the cliff, and also of “a profound, moral difference between the use of force for liberation and the use of force for conquest.” That line reads differently today, after the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, where liberation has proved more vexing.
Reagan also spoke out against isolationism. “We in America have learned bitter lessons from two world wars: It is better to be here, ready to protect the peace, than to take blind shelter across the sea, rushing to respond only after freedom is lost. We’ve learned that isolationism never was and never will be an acceptable response to tyrannical governments with an expansionist intent.” Here, too, it’s hard to read these lines in 2019, as a president seems intent on taking American foreign policy down a different path.
It’s anyone’s guess what Trump will say here on June 6, but I can’t easily imagine him saying, as Reagan said to America’s allies in 1984, “Your hopes are our hopes, and your destiny is our destiny.” Trump, who did not serve in Vietnam, has expressed contempt for the late Senator John McCain, who was held in captivity during that war. Trump is the president of a divided country, traveling to a divided continent, rife with internal divisions.
Before the Normandy invasion, the War and Navy Department issued “A Pocket Guide to France,” with some useful vocabulary and a succinct analysis of the French character and mores. “They are not back-slappers. It’s not their way,” it said, and cautioned soldiers to be respectful of Frenchwomen and not to expect “modern American plumbing.” It offered this advice: “No bragging about anything. Bragging is never more than a means of offending someone. No belittling either. Be generous; it won’t hurt you.”
And then: “You are a member of the best dressed, best fed, best equipped Liberating Army of a former Ally of your country. They are still your kind of people who happen to speak democracy in a different language. Americans among Frenchmen, let us remember our likeness, not our differences. The Nazi slogan for destroying us both was ‘Divide and Conquer.’ Our American answer is ‘In Union there is Strength.’” [Continue reading…]