Press: They died to save the democracy that MAGA is out to destroy
You had read and heard so much about it, you knew it would be a powerful experience. But, still, nothing prepares you for the flood of emotions that overcomes you the first time you actually set foot on the American Cemetery in Colleville-sur-Mer, Normandy.
First, the majestic beauty of the place: 172.5 acres, meticulously groomed, nestled on top of the cliffs overlooking Omaha Beach, where 34,250 American troops stormed ashore on June 6, 1944, against a fusillade of German artillery, leaving behind some 1,000 dead and 2,000 wounded or missing in action.
Second, the powerful sight of rows of white crosses as far as the eye can see. After the war, the American government gave grieving families of soldiers killed in Normandy the choice of having remains of their loved ones returned to the United States or buried here where they gave their lives. Forty percent of families opted for burial in the American cemetery.
Those 9,238 white crosses and 149 Stars of David marching in straight lines across the manicured lawn provide a stark contrast, and a sense of finality, to the savage battle that raged on the beach below. Each cross bears the soldier’s name, date of birth, date he was killed and home state. There are 45 pairs of brothers, buried side-by-side. And all crosses and Stars of David face west, toward the United States.
The overall impact of the American Cemetery is overwhelming, not just for its solemnity but for its symbolism. An inscription on the outside wall of the chapel in the middle of the cemetery reminds us: “Their graves are the permanent and visible symbol of their heroic devotion and their sacrifice in the common cause of humanity.” Inside the chapel, a similar inscription urges us: “Think not only upon their passing, remember the glory of their spirit.”
Indeed, what strikes you most about the cemetery is not only how many Americans made the ultimate sacrifice in Normandy, but why. They were not fighting simply to protect the territory of the United States or any other country. These soldiers, members of America’s “greatest generation,” were fighting for a much greater cause: the opportunity of all peoples everywhere to live in freedom, and not under the boot of a totalitarian regime. As French author Antoine de Saint-Exupery wrote to a friend after joining American forces on a troopship crossing the Mediterranean: “Fifty thousand soldiers of this convoy were going to war, not for the citizens of the United States but for man, for human respect for man’s freedom and greatness.”
But while there’s no doubt about what kind of freedom they were fighting for, there’s also no doubt about what kind of freedom they were not fighting for. They were not fighting for the freedom of a president of the United States to reject the certain results of an election. They were not fighting for the freedom of American citizens to stage a violent assault on the U.S. Capitol. They were not fighting for a land where citizens who attacked Capitol police officers are hailed as “patriots.” They were not fighting for the freedom of state election officials to overturn the results of elections they disagree with. They were not fighting for a government where anybody, not even a former president, is above the law.
Here’s the lesson of D-Day for today: By still refusing to accept results of the 2020 election, Donald Trump and MAGA Republicans are not only undermining our own democracy. They’re also mocking the sacrifice of the brave men and women buried in the American Cemetery in Normandy.
Press is host of “The Bill Press Pod.” He is the author of “From the Left: A Life in the Crossfire.”