Seventy-five years ago, U.S., British and Canadian forces joined in a courageous, do-or-die bid to turn back tyranny. The D-Day invasion was a gutsy military gambit whose success opened the way for a new global order in which the United States emerged the undisputed leader of the free world.
An estimated 10,000 Allied soldiers and sailors were injured or killed in the bid to establish the pivotal foothold that ultimately liberated the European mainland. The heroism displayed amid unfathomable carnage on the D-Day assault beaches — code-named Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno and Sword — ironically set in motion the peace that prevails across the European continent today. The battlefield successes of D-Day led to a new era of international cooperation and brotherhood.
That peace, however, is under severe duress. Politicians embracing right-wing nationalism are making election gains across Europe. The two most symbolic institutions of postwar cooperation — the European Union and NATO — are threatened by internal strife. Britain’s hand-wringing over continued EU membership has cost Prime Minister Theresa May her job. Decades of painstaking economic and legislative integration with the rest of Europe cannot be untangled as tidily as British isolationists had hoped.
President Donald Trump isn’t helping. His persistent denigration of NATO and cheerleading for EU disintegration conforms conveniently with Russian President Vladimir Putin’s global agenda. Queen Elizabeth II, Trump’s host during his United Kingdom visit this week, apparently feels strongly about the need for these postwar alliances to endure in spite of Trump’s rhetoric.
“While the world has changed,” she stated as she toasted Trump on Monday, “we are forever mindful of the original purpose of these institutions.” That purpose has always been to allow diplomacy to prevail over bellicosity, and for a strong, united defense to serve as the greatest deterrent to anyone contemplating war against any member of the European-U.S. alliance.
Trump too often seems to forget why these institutions exist — and how frightful the world would be without them. A Europe divided by nationalist politics and xenophobia opens the kinds of leadership voids that fascist dictators like Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini strive to fill. A weakened NATO encourages Russian adventurism, which is why Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula is now under Russian control.
Look around at the world’s many flashpoints today. Where strong trade and political alliances don’t exist, wars are either raging or threaten to erupt at any moment. China’s navy is seizing Pacific sea lanes. Nuclear-armed North Korea stands defiant. The Persian Gulf is a powder keg, once again, with U.S. troops, bombers and warships poised to strike at Iran.
These are the ingredients not for peace but for global conflagrations. Bold leadership by the United States, starting with the D-Day invasion, was what ended the last world war. Reckless or faltering U.S. leadership could easily push the world into the next one.