75 years later D-Day continues to represent exceptionalism

Imagine Europe with Communist governments in Germany, France and Italy, all satellites of the Soviet Union.
If the D-Day invasion, which happened 75 years ago June 6, had failed, then it is conceivable that Stalin’s Soviet Union would have liberated all of Europe from Hitler and ended up controlling the major countries of Europe, along with the industrial centers of the Ruhr and Lorraine.

An unidentified soldier on the Vanderbilt campus. Circa 1940s (Vanderbilt University Photographic Archives).

“The United States and Britain might have remained allied, but it is at least conceivable that the United States might have withdrawn to the Western Hemisphere or the Pacific as the focus of its foreign policy, essentially abandoning Europe to Soviet rule,” said Professor Thomas Schwartz.

Schwartz, professor of history, political science and European studies, said the size and scale of the D-Day amphibious invasion in Normandy, France, was unprecedented in its time and unlikely to ever be equaled. Nearly 160,000 troops crossed the English Channel on D-Day.

“Technological progress made shortly after the battle, especially the development of nuclear weapons, has made such a large concentration of military forces almost impossible to conceive,” Schwartz said.

D-Day has also become a symbol of American power and an example of its use for a just cause. The generation of that time is lauded as “The Greatest Generation.”

“To many Americans, D-Day demonstrated the exceptionalism of the United States, its willingness to sacrifice for freedom and liberty for others,” he said. “It provided the confidence that shaped the postwar world order and helped build the domestic political support for a sustained role in world affairs.

“If, for whatever reason, that had not been present, the United States would be a very different country today.”

Aerial view of military sea and beach traffic
Bird’s-eye view of landing craft, barrage balloons, and allied troops landing in Normandy, France on D-Day (Library of Congress)