The whole Normandy region retains an appreciation for Americans, unlike some other parts of France where Americans often find the French standoffish or haughty. Today, the long sandy stretch along Normandy's north coast is still called Omaha Beach in honor of the Americans who died there.
Going west from Omaha Beach toward Utah Beach, there are other tributes to the American liberators.
In the little village of Sainte Mere Eglise, a dramatic moment is recalled from the 82nd Airborne's assault on the night of June 5, 1944, when paratrooper John Steele's parachute got entangled on the church steeple and he played dead for hours before being disentangled and taken down.
Looking up at the church today, a replica of Steele and his parachute are there. Inside the church, a stained-glass window commemorates the American paratroopers, whose death toll of about 4,000 was even higher than the fatalities at Omaha Beach.
A Dark Turn
While war should never be romanticized -- and U.S. history is replete with its own acts of bloody inhumanity -- it is difficult for an American to come away from a visit to Normandy without a lump in one's throat about the necessary, if brutal, actions that occurred here.
Something truly evil had gained a powerful foothold in the world and had to be stopped. But the tragedy is also what happened next, how the United States became corrupted by much of the same viciousness that the Nazis and their Axis allies had unleashed.
Over Germany and Japan, the Allies undertook their own terror bombings of civilian centers, such as Dresden and Tokyo. On Aug. 6 and 9, 1945, President Harry Truman chose to drop atomic bombs on two nearly defenseless Japanese cities, Hiroshima and Nagasaki, rather than negotiate a peace with Japan.
After World War II, the United States engaged in a fierce competition with its erstwhile ally, the Soviet Union, again rebuffing possible openings for accommodation. Opting for a new kind of empire, the United States even collaborated with ex-Nazis and similarly brutal fascists in the Third World.
In Indochina, the U.S. military killed in the millions, and in Latin America, Washington allied itself with vicious dictators trained in the dark arts of assassination and torture.
To feed the national hunger for energy, American leaders sided with authoritarian leaders across the Middle East, just as long as those despots ensured a steady supply of oil.
Part of the Problem
Instead of seeing the Americans as liberators who were part of a solution, many people around the world came to view Americans as just the new imperialists on the block, as part of the problem.
When U.S. interference in the Middle East and Central Asia led to the emergence of al-Qaeda and its 9/11 attacks in 2001, President George W. Bush told the confused American public that the terrorists simply "hated our freedoms. Many Americans were then duped into believing that Iraq was somehow behind 9/11, even though no Iraqis were involved in those attacks.
Thus, a majority of Americans enthusiastically supported Bush's unprovoked invasion of that Arab country, a violation of the Nuremberg Tribunal's prohibition against aggressive war.
Some Americans were caught up in a frenzy of waving the American flag; others unfurled the Christian banner or the Star of David for a renewed "clash of civilizations" with Islam. Bigotry against Muslims has become an accepted part of political thought across much of the U.S. heartland and is eagerly promoted by the still-influential neoconservatives.
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