D-Day and the Parallels of Dictators Then and Now?

Commentary, Government, Ian Madsen

This week we commemorate the seventy-fifth anniversary of the courage and sacrifice of thousands of soldiers, sailors and airmen on the beaches and in the fields and woods of Normandy, France on June 6th, 1944. Fourteen thousand Canadian service members participated in the D-Day landings. Nearly five thousand Canadians died and many more suffered terrible injuries.  

On that day, they advanced farther from their landing on Juno beach than their Allied comrades-in-arms did, and actually suffered a lower casualty rate. By August, they had entered Paris, the capital of the occupied ally France, and by the end of the year were near the border of Nazi Germany itself. Canadians can be proud, if not outright awed, by the heroic and valiant conquest of evil.

Yet it did not have to come to this horrendous, savage, colossally destructive climax.

Adolf Hitler’s odious regime had been gaining power, amassing arms, and grabbing territory for several years before outright trans-continental hostilities became manifest with its invasion of Poland on September 1st, 1939. It had stealthily, and then brazenly re-armed, with little or no protest by the European powers which had imposed on it conditions requiring Germany to not have an armed force after it signed the Treaty of Versailles, subsequent to the armistice ending World War I in 1918.  

It had also threatened to annex Austria, which it did in 1938, and then warned that it intended to do the same to the western parts of Czechoslovakia in the same year, precipitating the ‘Munich Crisis’. British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain acceded to the break-up of the Czecho-Slovak nation, which was then dismembered by its neighbours, including Germany and Poland. Later that year came ‘Kristallnacht’ where Jewish businesses were ransacked, destroyed, and many Jews were killed. When Germany mobilized against Poland, the Western powers finally acted, but then it was too late. Millions of people died to end genocidal tyranny, only to bring on more tyranny when the Soviet Union swallowed Eastern and Central Europe.

Imperial Japan embarked on a similar militaristic course. Although it was more actively opposed by China, its principal victim, when Japan first invaded and colonized Manchuria in 1931, then attacked Nanking, the capital of the Nationalist Republic of China in 1937. Japan’s actions raised alarms in the United States, which enacted trade restrictions and hastened military leader Hideki Tojo’s strategy to conquer Indonesia’s and Malaysia’s resource-rich territories, and neutralize the United States by attacking the Philippines and its Pacific fleet in Hawaii. Japan later attacked Burma and India, and was eventually defeated. But the weakened Chinese government fell to Communist forces four years after World War II ended, as did the northern half of Korea, a former Japanese colony.

All this recap of history illustrates that oppressive, militaristic, expansionist authoritarian dictatorships seldom hide their true nature for long. They give many signals of their real intentions and strategy: generally conquest and vanquishing of potential obstructors of their plans. There is one major nation which is eerily similar to these other vicious and intractable regimes which unleashed such destruction and horror on the world, requiring herculean efforts from free market pluralistic democracies and their allies. It has already taken territory, bullied neighbours, and taken hostages in extra-legal attempts to attain technical, industrial, commercial, and economic dominance. It has shown its hand a little too early, and now Western nations are on to it, but should have been more aware and shrewder in dealing with this menace far earlier.

There may not be anything like D-Day again, but there could be a titanic economic, financial, commercial and even military (small-scale it is hoped) struggle to bring about a new, more peaceful equilibrium in the world- because our political leaders were naïve and oblivious, just like eighty-some years ago. Honour our veterans and the fallen, and remember the lessons of their sacrifice.

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Ian Madsen is the senior policy analyst at the Frontier Centre for Public Policy.