We’re celebrating a lot of historical anniversaries this year. The British Burning of Washington, the shelling of Fort McHenry and the writing of the Star Spangled Banner, 1814; start of World War I, 1914; passage of the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution and passage of the Civil Rights Act, 1964; Nixon’s Watergate resignation, 1974. It’s also the 10th anniversary of Facebook’s debut. (Only 10 years?) When you’re not an enthusiast, it feels like a lifetime. But the event that changed our lives even more than — for those 35 or under, believe it or not — Facebook occurred 70 years ago yesterday, June 6, 1944. D-Day. Over the past few weeks, we’ve been enthralled with the stories of valiant GIs on the planes, ships and beaches of Normandy and the enormity of the undertaking. There’s been less attention paid to what it all meant for America’s future.
The Allies knew that if Operation Overlord didn’t succeed they wouldn’t have the wherewithal to attempt it again for several years. The war would become a battle of attrition that could eventually drain even Americans’ fervor and thrust the world back into depression. As it turned out, it was the beginning of the end for the Third Reich. But it also was the end of the beginning of the United States’ long adolescence. Although the U.S., with its enormous natural resources, had the largest economy in the world since the 1920s, finally surpassing that of the colonial empires, it still viewed itself as Europe’s junior partner. Its policy of isolationism and aversion to foreign entanglements throughout the 1920s and 1930s kept it from becoming a major world player. For instance, prior to the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Army had only a few hundred tanks. For training drills, the 10th Armored Division often used trucks with the word “tank” painted on their sides or crews marched down roads in groups executing orders as if they were in tanks. America’s leadership in the successful invasion of Nazi-occupied Europe and in the subsequent conquest of the Axis powers unleashed a colossus. Its years as a gangly, untested teenager were over. Its sycophantic deference to European sophistication, manners and geopolitical and economic pre-eminence exchanged for a renewed enthusiasm for American exceptionalism. America would emerge from the war as the greatest economic and military power ever known on earth, the superhero defender of democracy against the “Red Menace.” The 1944 Bretton Woods agreement established the dollar as the world’s reserve currency. The New York Stock Exchange surpassed London as the world’s largest exchange. The Marshall Plan revived a shattered Europe while generating an industrial bonanza at home launching until then the longest, seven years, bull market in history. The freshly empowered union movement; the G.I. Bill offering returning veterans affordable home mortgages, low interest business start-up loans and tuition assistance; and pent-up consumer demand created the Golden Age of the middle class that would last for nearly 40 years. All starting with 2,500 Americans and another 1,900 allies dying on D-Day. Marty Moore is a freelance writer living in Port Richey.