Shmuley Boteach

D-Day’s 80th Should Inspire Israel to Destroy Hamas

Normandy, France — I traveled to France for the 80th anniversary of the D-Day landings commemorated this June 6. I have been to Normandy many times and I’ve tried to study all the contours of this unforgettable battlefield. But the significant anniversaries that take place every five years are themselves so important, but none more so than this 80th anniversary as it will, and all probability, be the last time that soldiers who actually braved the beaches of Juno, Sword, Omaha, Utah, and Gold, will still be alive.

I still remember my first significant connection to the D-Day anniversaries when Ronald Reagan spoke here exactly 40 years ago and gave his magnificent “These are the boys of Point-du-Hac” speech, commemorating the incomparable bravery of American rangers who scaled the cliffs of Normandy while under withering German Nazi fire. Since then, every five years, American presidents, make the trip across the Atlantic to honor the bravery of American men who fought and died here.

It was on the occasion of the 50th anniversary that Bill Clinton spoke in Normandy and came to Oxford University two days later where I attended his speech at the Sheldonian theater. Since then, I have more or less been here every five years, including for President Trump’s speech five years ago and President Biden speech this year.

France, of course, is not only where the great battles of the D-Day invasion were fought, but where the bloodiest battles of the first world war left the countryside, soaked in Allied and Axis blood.

The two sides of war – useless carnage on the one hand, necessary bravery and heroism on the other – were always in evidence as I toured with my wife and older children the WWI and WWII battlefields of Belgium and France.

In Flanders and at the Somme, where millions of soldiers lost their lives in the First World War to capture a few yards that were quickly recaptured by the enemy, the feel of death lingered nearly a century after the fearsome clashes. Everywhere around the towns of Albert at the Somme, and Ypres in Flanders, there are graves. Endless mounds of graves. So many that it would take weeks to visit them all. Military cemeteries dot the landscape with the ubiquitousness of Starbucks and Macdonald’s. The cemeteries each have hundreds and often thousands of headstones. Never in my life have I been surrounded by so much death. A single British memorial at Thiepval lists the names of seventy-two thousand soldiers whose bodies were never recovered.

The pock-marked, cratered battlefields where so many soldiers died in vain are likewise everywhere along the truly massive Western front, which extended from Switzerland to the North Sea. Nearly a hundred years later, the cemeteries are still richly maintained by the British, Canadian, Irish, and South African governments. your taxpayer American dollars cover the majority of the cost, but who would argue that this is one of our best investments. The famous poppies which came to define the First World War still grow between the graves and on the side of the road in a manner reminiscent of John’ McCrae’s unforgettable poem, Flanders Fields. And the overwhelming emotion felt by the visitor a century later as he views this most quintessential of European wars is the utter stupidity, futility, and uselessness of war. Painful as it is to say, these millions of men, including the 400,000 British casualties of the Somme offensive which yielded but a few hundred yards and which the Germans retook just a few months later, died for nothing.

Not that the military cemeteries would ever admit as much. In nearly all the first words you encounter, etched in bright stone, is ‘They Fought for Freedom,’ or some such banner. But the truth is they fought for the limitless egos of European imperialists and the megalomaniacal stupidity of clueless generals, all of whom – Wilhelm II, Nicholas II, Kitchener, Haig, Bethman, and the Ottomans – have been utterly discredited by history.

By the time you drive southwest, however, for just three hours, the beaches of Normandy yield a uniquely American face of war. As I arrived in Paris, the city is surrounded by memorabilia for the upcoming 2024 Olympics. It is so sad that all you see our statues of athletes for Paris‘s first games in a century, but almost nothing in Paris commemorating the 80th anniversary of the day landings, to which most people I spoke to were completely oblivious of.

Just as I can scarcely describe the feelings of horror I experienced amid the tombstones of poppy country at the Somme, I struggle equally to convey the inspiration of living out my lifelong dream of standing on the invasion beaches of D-Day. From the British and Canadian beaches of Sword, Juno, and Gold and especially to the American beaches of Omaha and Utah, there is heroism glimmering from every particle of sand and bravery shimmering from the crest of every wave. Like Israel’s current and tragic war in Gaza, here was war with a noble, human objective. Not to win glory but to defeat evil. Not to expand empire but to crush tyranny. Not to subdue a foreign nation but to stop the genocide of a defenseless people.

Omaha Beach should be the American Mecca, a place of required pilgrimage for every US citizen at least once in their lifetime. As I stood on the vast expanse of Omaha beach I closed my eyes and tried to see the nearly three thousand Americans who died storming a heavily fortified beach, dodging machine gun nests, evading mortar fire, jumping from tanks hit by German 88mm cannons, until they could fight no more, falling amid the withering German crossfire in defense of people they had never met. Walking among the silence and perfect rows of Crosses and Magen Davids of the ten thousand Americans interred at the Omaha Beach cemetery overlooking the invasion site, you can still feel the tremor of millions of American soldiers hurling themselves against Hitler’s Atlantic wall to liberate a continent that Americans had themselves abandoned a century-and-a-half earlier because of its limits on human freedom. To witness the scale of the effort, like the remnants of the mammoth ‘Mulberry’ artificial harbor at Arromanches, built in the absence of a captured port to feed and supply the immense army, is to be rendered small as you stand amid the enormity of those justly labeled ‘The Greatest Generation.’

Americans do not fight wars for medals or conquest. They fight wars for liberty and freedom. Colin Powell expressed it best: “Over the years the United States has sent many of its fine young men and women into great peril to fight for freedom beyond our border. The only amount of land we have ever asked for in return is enough to bury those that did not return.”

Those noble ideals should guide the current response to the utterly antisemitic and unfair criticisms of Israel as international appropriate cruise just for the Jews, defending themselves against Hamas and Iranian genocide.

Israel is a tiny country fighting for its very survival. My wife and I have two sons in this war which causes us endless anxiety. But any nation, including even a superpower like the United States, has limits as to its manpower and resources. America should not have to be the world’s policeman, a goal that was originally set for a now toothless and corrupt United Nations. But as someone who has offered criticism of President Biden when he decided to send $6b to Iran just before October 7th, I must also offer gratitude and praise to the president for the nearly unwavering military support he has given Israel since that calamitous day, many critics from his own base and base party.

Just as FDR supported Britain through Lend-Lease 80 years ago, President Biden has given Israel the arms that needs to defend itself against the Hamas savages.

It was we Americans who inspired our European brethren to put aside war as an instrument of glory and employ it solely as an apparatus to protect life and dignity. Israel practices the same and using its army, not to conquer but to defend. It was the United States who saved Britain from invasion and France from occupation.

And as criticism of Israel mounts throughout Europe, and especially among American allies like the United Kingdom and France, these two nations are to remember the kindness and bravery of America to save them from Hitler and the darkness of tyranny and the Nazis. And Britain and France should never forget that there are some of their soldiers still alive, in wheelchairs on the fields of Normandy, who landed at the beaches 80 years ago who can still look back and remember the face of tyranny that nearly engulfed all of Europe, as Iran seeks to engulf the entire Middle East today.

About the Author
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach is the founder of This World: The Values Network. He is the author of Judaism for Everyone and 30 other books, including his most recent, Kosher Lust. Follow him on Twitter@RabbiShmuley.
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