Last Friday (May 31, 2019), the NPR radio program “On Point” conducted a special live broadcast from the National WWII Museum in New Orleans entitled “75th Anniversary Of D-Day: Preserving The Stories Of WWII Veterans." The host was NPR’s media correspondent David Folkenflik and the segment featured Walter Isaacson, professor of history at Tulane University, and Gemma Birnbaum, associate vice president of the World War II Media and Education Center at The National WWII Museum, as guests. This writer was not only looking forward to an engaging discussion of the successful Allied landings at the Normandy beaches on June 6, 1944, but also hoping that the guests would present the contemporary state of military history research on the significance of D-Day.
I was sorely disappointed. Instead of placing the invasion within the wider context of the war against Nazi Germany, Folkenflik and his guests revived the “Myth of D-Day,” that is, they reinforced the erroneous belief that D-Day was the decisive battle of the Second World War in Europe, that it marked “the turning of the tide,” and that it sealed the doom of the German Army, the Wehrmacht. Had D-Day failed, so the argument goes, Germany could have still won the war, with nightmarish consequences for Europe, the United States and the world as a whole. This myth is a legacy of the Cold War, when each side accentuated what it did to defeat Nazi Germany, the most monstrous regime in human history, and played down the contributions of the other side. Russian students today, for example, are taught the “Great Patriotic War,” which the Soviet Union won practically single-handedly, without having previously cooperated with Nazi Germany and without having had committed any atrocities – which is take a creative approach to interpreting the history of World War II, to say the least. But it also remains the case that far too many American, British and Canadian students are taught that the victory over Nazi Germany was mostly the work of the Anglo-American forces, which also is a distortion of truth.