The 75th anniversary of D-Day has come and gone. The speeches are delivered. The dignitaries have returned home. But my heart is still in Normandy.
As I write, I am holding a small jar of sand scooped from once bloody beaches. It moves me. One hundred-thirty thousand troops in 7,000 ships landed along a 50-mile stretch of sand. It was the largest naval armada ever assembled in the history of the world. It was advanced by 17,000 paratroopers who dropped behind enemy lines.
No one had ever seen an invasion force of this magnitude, yet it gained little territory. In the end, allies from six nations gained for themselves only 172.5 acres of French territory. They were not fighting for land. They were fighting for civilization — a way of life.
They kept only enough land to bury their dead. Beneath the hallowed ground lie the remains of 9,388 fallen countrymen. Of those, 9,239 graves are marked by Latin crosses, an additional 149 by the Star of David. This is remarkable.
Where else in the annals of history do we find an empire that fought, but not to enrich itself? Some wars were fought to expand territory. Some were fought to exact tribute money. Some were fought out of duty to an alliance. But the allies fought for none of these reasons. They fought because civilization itself was at stake.
What is civilization? It derives from the Latin word civitas, meaning city. Civilization is comprised of institutions and ideas that allow people who are unrelated to live together in peace and unity. The bonds of marriage and family arise naturally in human hearts. But the bonds that tie family to family in a cooperative endeavor must be cultivated.
That’s why the first and most basic building block of civilization is the family. Cities are not made up by random men, women and children. Cities are built by fathers and mothers, sons and daughters who build homes, businesses and a shared infrastructure to benefit their families.
Immediately, that determines two parameters of any civilization. First, the government supports and protects every individual family. Second, it prevents any family from benefitting at the expense of another family. A government that fails in either of these areas is destroying civilization, not building it.
The National Socialists of Germany had done more than take over French territory. They demonstrated an utter contempt for the family. It began with the T4 program that secretly euthanized elderly fathers and mothers in government institutions. It expanded to kill mentally handicapped brothers and sisters and those maimed in the Great War.
Next, the National Socialists encouraged some families to attack the homes and businesses of other families. “Kristallnacht,” the night of broken glass, brought this pogrom into the streets. Soon enough, storm troopers divided the families of Jews, Gypsies and other “non-desirables” by taking them to separate concentration camps.
Even while so-called Aryan families were momentarily spared such forced separation, they were being divided by more insidious means. The Hitler Youth and the Nazi Brown Shirts indoctrinated German children with lies and turned them into informants against their own parents and siblings.
Through all these atrocities, and more, the civilized world came to understand that the National Socialist regime was pure evil. It was not just a different kind of civilization. It was no civilization at all. The Allied forces were fighting for civilization itself, and they knew it.
In commemorations throughout the last 75 years, speeches have repeatedly made this claim. But as our own civilization is undermined and confused, it sounds increasingly strange to our ears.
Moral relativism teaches that there is no objective good or objective evil. It teaches that there is no way of knowing a good civilization from an evil one. Yet this bankrupt philosophy dominates our cultural institutions today.
We are propagandized through film and song, in classrooms and newsrooms. These don’t merely assert, they assume that no matter what a person chooses, that choice is legitimate and beyond criticism. We are taught that choice itself is the end-all and be-all.
The more deeply this indoctrination sinks into the national psyche, the more difficult it is to understand what happened at D-Day. Speeches may recount story after heroic story of men who rose to the challenge of the century. Yet, the motivation for such widespread heroism is utterly baffling if we ourselves no longer believe that good and evil are valid categories.
If we can no longer understand what makes a civilization, we cannot tell the difference between the good guys and the bad guys.
Last Thursday, President Trump recounted the stories of numerous heroes who not only fought and survived, but who travelled to Normandy to be present at the commemorations 75 years later. Their stories are inspiring and humbling.
You should take the time to read his entire speech. Even his harshest critics are praising it as one of the best of his presidency. Not only does it vividly portray the deeds of these heroic men, it goes on to explain the spirit that drove them on.
At the climax of the speech, he said, “They pressed on for love in home and country — the Main Streets, the schoolyards, the churches and neighbors, the families and communities that gave us men such as these. They were sustained by the confidence that America can do anything because we are a noble nation, with a virtuous people, praying to a righteous God. The exceptional might came from a truly exceptional spirit. The abundance of courage came from an abundance of faith. The great deeds of an Army came from the great depths of their love.” This is exactly right.
The 9,239 crosses and 149 stars that mark the graves of the fallen are more than empty symbols. They are silent testimony that these men were driven on by a common worldview. The uncommon valor, so common on D-Day, arose from a shared idea that no civilization is — or can be — a god unto itself.
We are answerable to the One who created us. Laws are not created by the choices of legislators or judges, they are discovered in creation itself and acknowledged by the common consent of the people. A common accountability to the Creator civilizes people.
Natural love binds families together. But family can only be bound to other families by acknowledging a common creator. This fills each family with a desire to protect the family next door as zealously as its own.
Make no mistake. The Cross and the Star of David are not the same. They stand for widely different views of who the Creator is. Both, however, acknowledge “one nation under God.” Civilization starts there.
Now we have commemorated the 75th anniversary of the event that saved western civilization. The best way that we can honor the dead and give thanks to the living is to understand what that civilization is.
Only when we have regained the clear vision of good and evil that inspired them, can we fight as heroically in our own day to preserve civilization for our children.