By / Jun 6

Thirty-five years ago this week, President Ronald Reagan stood on a beach in Normandy, France and gave a speech recounting the events of D-Day, commending those who fought the battle, and connecting the fight against Nazi totalitarianism to the fight against the totalitarianism of the Soviet Union.

“For sheer oratorical elegance,” said historian Douglas Brinkley, it would become “one of the most inspirational presidential speeches ever delivered.”

President Reagan spoke these words to an audience of dignitaries that included Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom, King Olav V of Norway, and Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau of Canada. But the true luminaries in the audience were the 62 D-Day veterans, the American Rangers who had scaled the 100-foot cliffs of Pointe du Hoc 40 years earlier.

During the D-Day assault these men had climbed the cliffs and seized the German artillery pieces that could have fired on the American landing troops at Omaha and Utah beaches. As Reagan noted in his speech, 225 Rangers fought for two days, and by the time they had taken the cliffs, “only 90 could still bear arms.”

Reagan’s words were written by Peggy Noonan, a 33-year-old speechwriter who was not even alive when the men stormed the beach at D-Day. Although she would become a renowned writer and best-selling author, at the time Noonan wrote the D-Day speech she had only worked in the White House a few months. A few days before the speech was delivered she made a last-minute change, striking out the line, “We have here today some of the survivors of the battle of Point du Hoc, some of the Rangers who took these cliffs.” In its place she handwrote the line, “These are the boys of Pointe du Hoc . . .”—a line now considered by many to be one of the greatest of any of Reagan’s speeches.

The beauty of the speech made it memorable. What made the speech one of the most important presidential speeches, though, was how it connects the fight against totalitarianism during World War II to the struggle against totalitarianism in the Cold War. In the speech Reagan tells the allies of the U.S. that “we were with you then, and we are with you now,” and calls upon the West to “renew our commitment to each other, to our freedom, and to the alliance that protects it.” These words, says Mary Kate Cary, a senior fellow of the Miller Center, kept the coalition in place that later defeated the Soviet Union and ended the Cold War. “The ‘boys of Pointe du Hoc’ saved the world, and, in many ways, they did so more than once,” says Miller.

Here are 10 quotes you should know from this indelible address:

1. “Europe was enslaved, and the world prayed for its rescue. Here in Normandy the rescue began. Here the Allies stood and fought against tyranny in a giant undertaking unparalleled in human history.”

2. “These are the boys of Pointe du Hoc. These are the men who took the cliffs. These are the champions who helped free a continent. These are the heroes who helped end a war.”

3. “Forty summers have passed since the battle that you fought here. You were young the day you took these cliffs; some of you were hardly more than boys, with the deepest joys of life before you. Yet, you risked everything here. Why? Why did you do it? What impelled you to put aside the instinct for self-preservation and risk your lives to take these cliffs? What inspired all the men of the armies that met here? We look at you, and somehow we know the answer. It was faith and belief; it was loyalty and love.”

4. “The men of Normandy had faith that what they were doing was right, faith that they fought for all humanity, faith that a just God would grant them mercy on this beachhead or on the next. It was the deep knowledge—and pray God we have not lost it—that there is a profound, moral difference between the use of force for liberation and the use of force for conquest. You were here to liberate, not to conquer, and so you and those others did not doubt your cause. And you were right not to doubt.”

5. “You all knew that some things are worth dying for. One’s country is worth dying for, and democracy is worth dying for, because it’s the most deeply honorable form of government ever devised by man. All of you loved liberty. All of you were willing to fight tyranny, and you knew the people of your countries were behind you.”

6. “Something else helped the men of D-day: their rockhard belief that Providence would have a great hand in the events that would unfold here; that God was an ally in this great cause.”

7. “We in America have learned bitter lessons from two World Wars: It is better to be here ready to protect the peace, than to take blind shelter across the sea, rushing to respond only after freedom is lost.”

8. “We want to wipe from the face of the Earth the terrible weapons that man now has in his hands. And I tell you, we are ready to seize that beachhead. We look for some sign from the Soviet Union that they are willing to move forward, that they share our desire and love for peace, and that they will give up the ways of conquest.”

9. “We will pray forever that some day that changing will come. But for now, particularly today, it is good and fitting to renew our commitment to each other, to our freedom, and to the alliance that protects it.”

10. “Here, in this place where the West held together, let us make a vow to our dead. Let us show them by our actions that we understand what they died for. Let our actions say to them the words for which Matthew Ridgway listened: ‘’I will not fail thee nor forsake thee.’”

By / Dec 7

Today marks the 76th anniversary of the Japanese attack on the American naval base at Pearl Harbor near Honolulu, Hawaii. Here are five facts you should know about the event that propelled the U.S. into World War II:

1. In July 1941, Franklin D. Roosevelt’s administration imposed an oil embargo on Japan to deter further aggression in Asia. At the time Japan was dependent on America’s oil, but also believed that war with the U.S. was inevitable.  Because they needed access to oil and other resources, Japan decided to seize the overseas territories controlled by the U.S., the U.K., and the Netherlands. On the morning of December 7, 1941, Japan launched a series of attacks on the U.S.-held Philippines, Guam, and Wake Island, and on the British Empire in Malaya, Singapore, and Hong Kong. The Japanese also attacked Pearl Harbor, believing that by destroying the American naval fleet in the Pacific theater they would be able to prevent the U.S. from interfering with Japanese expansion. As military historian Victor Davis Hanson explains, “In short, for the Japanese, December 1941 seemed a good time to attack the United States – a provocation that would either likely be negotiated or end in a military defeat for the U.S.”

2. In the two-hour bombing campaign that took place on the morning of December 7, 1941, Japanese forces were able to destroy 188 airplanes and nearly 20 American naval vessels. All eight U.S. Navy battleships were damaged (four were sunk, but all but the Arizona were later raised). The attack killed 2,403 American service members and wounded 1,178 others. An additional 68 civilians died and 35 were wounded.

3. The attack on the naval base was conducted by 353 Japanese fighter planes, bombers, and torpedo planes, which were launched from six aircraft carriers. Five Japanese mini submarines also participated in the battle. Altogether, the Japanese losses were relatively light: 29 aircraft destroyed; 4 mini subs sunk and 1 grounded; 64 men killed and 1 captured.

4. Hara Chuichi, a Japanese commander of a carrier group that helped carry out the attack, later claimed, "we won a great tactical victory at Pearl Harbor and thereby lost the war." The Japanese attacked with the belief that it was strategically necessary to disable American battleships. But battleships were, by this point, becoming less important than aircraft carriers—and all three of the U.S. Pacific Fleet's aircraft carriers were away from Pearl Harbor at the time of the attack. The Japanese leadership also underestimated the resolve of the American people. As Jeffery Record says, “The Japanese believed they were racially and spiritually superior to the Americans, whom they regarded as an effete, creature-comforted people divided by political factionalism and racial and class strife.

5. Because the attack caught the U.S. completely off-guard, many people placed blame on the government and military leaders, accusing them of either incompetence or involvement in a conspiracy. The U.S. government made nine official inquiries into the attack between 1941 and 1946, and a tenth in 1995. No solid evidence has ever been found to support the fringe theory that American leadership knew of the attack, though incompetence and ill-preparation were cited in the investigations. Had the military had warning about the attack, though, the outcome could have been even worse. As many historians now point out, if they had been aware of a pending attack the U.S. Navy would have attempted to face the Japanese navy in open waters. The superiority of the Japanese fleet would have still prevailed and lead to many of the ships being sunk and unrecoverable, setting the U.S. military and war effort back about two years. 

Editor's note: This post originally ran on the 75th anniversary.

By / Jul 26

The idea of home is a well-worn theme in stories and in movies. For many, home is a place of comfort, safety, familiarity, and respite. Home is never more desirable than when we have been away from it for a long period of time or have dealt with the difficulties of life. For those who have fought bravely for their country, I can only imagine the hope and joy that comes with the thought of going home.

Director Christopher Nolan’s latest film, “Dunkirk,” evokes that kind of longing. It feels entirely authentic. It is truly an impressive feat considering the list of lauded filmmakers who have gone before and tackled the stories of World War II. Steven Spielberg’s “Saving Private Ryan” was certainly authentic in that it showed the blood, guts, and brutality of war. As the story unfolded, we also saw man’s humanity through the quiet moments. What sets “Dunkirk” apart is that there are virtually no quiet moments. Its short runtime is filled with chaos and intensity almost from the very beginning. (Hans Zimmer’s unrelenting, ticking time-bomb score adds much to this feeling.) Boats are torpedoed, bombs are dropped, aerial dog fights happen just overhead, and bullets ricochet and rip through the metal hull of a small ship. Somehow we don’t even see much of the blood and guts. And in what I’m sure was a calculated decision, we never see the enemy. And yet, the noise, the shellings, the fear, and the absolute chaos (all heightened when viewed in 70mm IMAX) are what give it that authentic feeling, a feeling as if you were actually there. Nolan doesn’t cheat it with CGI and special effects either. The practical effects are exquisite. Even the dialogue is often difficult to understand. But that actually turns out to be a strong choice as it works to heighten the frantic nature of the true story.

In May 1940, several hundred thousand Allied troops were trapped on the beaches of Dunkirk in France. Nazi Germany was on the move, and things looked bleak. So the call was put out to civilians to bring in every boat and vessel that could be found in order to cross the English Channel and rescue the troops. The communal effort was truly heroic.

The plot of the film is simple, but the execution, once again, sets it apart as a Christopher Nolan film. One of his strengths is certainly his writing. He has structured the film around three storylines happening on land, sea, and in the air. There are main characters in these storylines, but we never get to know them on any kind of personal level. The individual is not incredibly important to Nolan’s story. Instead, it is the community of men, struggling for survival amidst the chaos of war, that truly anchors the film. And at the heart of every soldier at Dunkirk, is the simple desire to go home.

The story of a retreat/rescue mission during World War II hardly seems like a tale worth telling. Typically we would sweep that part of history under the rug. After all, Dunkirk was not an Allied victory. And yet, despite the death and madness all around, Nolan has found a way to tell it and still end his film on an inspiring note.

No matter how deeply he entrenches us in the horrors of war, we are not without hope. Rescuers are just around the corner. I know and feel that our world is broken, yet I left the theater with hope as well. Even more so, for those who have trusted in Jesus Christ, our hope lies in the thought of one day leaving the madness of this world behind and finally going to our eternal Home.

By / Jul 20

Today, film director Christopher Nolan’s movie Dunkirk opens in theaters across the U.S. The film tells the true story of Operation Dynamo, a heroic effort to save Allied troops who were stranded on a beach in France and surrounded by the German army during World War II.

Here are five facts about the “Miracle of Dunkirk,” the biggest evacuation in military history.

1. In September 1939, after Germany invaded Poland, the British army was sent to support their allies in France. When the Germans subsequently invaded France in May 1940, the British army, three French armies, and what remained of the Belgian army, found themselves trapped near the Belgian-French border. On May 26, the British military began to implement Operation Dynamo to evacuate these Allied forces from Dunkirk. Dunkirk, is located in the north of France, a mere 47 nautical miles from the UK across the English Channel.

2. In a national broadcast, King George VI called for a National Day of Prayer to be held on May 26, the day before Operation Dynamo was to be launched. The king called on the people of the UK to turn back to God in a spirit of repentance and plead for divine help. According to John Willans, two events immediately followed: a violent storm arose over the Dunkirk region grounding the German fighter planes that had been killing thousands on the beaches, and then a “great calm descended on the Channel, the like of which hadn’t been seen for a generation” which allowed the evacuation to take place. From that point on the British people began to refer to what happened as “the miracle of Dunkirk.” 

3. Operation Dynamo involved about 860 ships, including 693 British ships. Almost 700 were private British boats that became known as the “Little Ships of Dunkirk.” (The smallest boat to take part in the operation was the Tamzine, an open fishing boat that was just under 15 feet in length and was able to carry five people.) Most of the “Little Ships” were owned by civilians but commandeered by the British navy and manned by naval officers or experienced volunteers. They were mostly used to ferry the stranded soldiers from the beach and harbor to the larger warships, though several of the “Little Ships” carried hundreds of men directly to England.

 4. The evacuation occurred over nine days, from May 27 to June 4. On the first day, only 7,699 stranded troops were picked up. But by the end of the operation, a total of 338,226 soldiers were evacuated from the beaches and harbors of Dunkirk. Throughout the retreat, the Allies were exposed to deadly attacks from German fighter planes. During the Dunkirk battle the German aerial warfare branch (the Luftwaffe) flew 1,882 bombing and made 1,997 fighter sweeps. As well as being exposed to attack from the air, many of the men had to wait for hours in water up their shoulders. Despite the risks, the men waited patiently to be rescued. As one British solider noted, “You had the impression of people standing waiting for a bus. There was no pushing or shoving.”

5. Although most of the troops were saved, the Allies left behind 2,472 cannons, around 65,000 vehicles, 20,000 motorcycles, 377,000 tons of supplies, over 68,000 tons of munitions, and 147,000 tons of fuel. As Winston Churchill reminded his people in a speech made on the last day of the operation, “We must be very careful not to assign to this deliverance the attributes of a victory. Wars are not won by evacuations.” Nevertheless, Hitler’s failure to press an earlier attack and capture the British army on the beaches was one of his most significant military failures during the war, and became a key turning point toward an Allied victory.

By / May 27

Every Friday, we bring to you the top five international stories of the week, with a particular emphasis on religious liberty, justice issues, and geopolitical issues that impact liberty and justice.

  1. Today, President Obama becomes the first sitting U.S. President to visit Hiroshima. President Obama did not apologize for the bombing, which brought about an end to the Pacific theater of World War II. The president used the moment to advocate against the use, stockpiling and proliferation of nuclear weapons. In his own speech, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said, "At any place in world, this tragedy must not be repeated again." Residents of Nagasaki have asked why their city is not on the president's itinerary.
  2. Greece begins deportation of migrants living in Idomeni, on the border with Macedonia. The city was once a crucial entry point to one stream of the refugee highway that ran along the Balkan Peninsula, connecting Eurasia to Europe. This week, the camp housed around 8,000 migrants, most of whom have been trapped in the city for months, hoping to get to Europe. But this pathway was closed off as part of the EU's migrant deal with Turkey, and these migrants will be sent to state-run camps near Thessaloniki, the second-largest city in Greece. Ahead of the evacuation, riot police were readied, but Greek authorities have emphasized that the evacuation has been running relatively smoothly.
  3. Taliban leader killed in Pakistan by drone strike; Taliban announces replacement. Mullah Mansour was killed in a quiet Pakistani province called Baluchistan. This marked the first strike the U.S. has conducted in the province, as Pakistani forces had refused to grant permission for U.S. drones to operate in the area. The New York Times reported that the death of Mullah Mansour has shattered a feeling of security that senior Taliban leaders enjoyed operating in Pakistan. The Taliban announced a replacement, Mawlawi Hibatullah Akhundzada, a hard-line religious scholar who formerly had charge of the Taliban's religious courts. Most analysts do not anticipate a major change in the Taliban's direction under Akhundzada's leadership.
  4. President Obama visits Vietnam, lifting the decades-long arms sale ban. President Obama said, “Sales will need to still meet strict requirements, including those related to human rights, but this change will ensure that Vietnam has access to the equipment it needs to defend itself.” However, the move has drawn the ire of human rights experts, who argue that the move was made without adequate concessions from the Vietnamese government on human rights issues.
  5. Iran's Assembly of Experts, a major power center in Iran, has elected a new ultraconservative hard-line leader. From the AP: “The selection of 89-year-old Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati, an ultraconservative who called for the execution of opposition activists after Iran's disputed 2009 election and asked Iraqis to be suicide bombers against U.S. forces in Iraq in 2003, signals the power hard-liners still wield in Iran despite a recent nuclear deal with world powers.”

Have suggestions for a top 5 article this week or think there’s an issue we should be covering? Email me at [email protected].

By / Jan 22

Next Tuesday marks the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi German concentration and extermination camp Auschwitz. The first extermination of prisoners took place in September 1941, and Auschwitz II–Birkenau went on to become a major site of the Nazi "Final Solution to the Jewish question."

Here are five facts you should know about Nazi extermination camps:

1. The Nazis distinguished between extermination camps and concentration camps. The interchangeable terms extermination camp (Vernichtungslager) and death camp (Todeslager) refer to camps whose primary function was genocide. Unlike concentration camps, the Nazis did not expect the majority of prisoners taken to the extermination camps to survive more than a few hours after arrival. In the early years of the Holocaust, the Jews were primarily sent to concentration camps (where they would often die of torture and starvation), but from 1942 onwards they were mostly deported to the extermination camps.

2. Genocide at extermination camps was initially carried out in the form of mass shootings. However, the shootings proved to be too psychologically damaging to those being asked to pull the triggers. The Nazis next tried mass killing by blowing victims up with explosives, but that also was found unsuitable. The Nazis settled on gassing their victims (usually with carbon monoxide or a cyanide-based pesticide). Stationary gas chambers could kill 2,000 people at once. Once in the chambers, about one-third of the victims died immediately, though death could take up to 20 minutes.

3. The use of camps equipped with gas chambers for the purpose of systematic mass extermination of peoples was a unique feature of the Holocaust and unprecedented in history. Never before had there existed places with the express purpose of killing people en masse. These were extermination camps established at Auschwitz, Belzec, Chełmno, Jasenovac, Majdanek, Maly Trostenets, Sobibor, and Treblinka. For political and logistical reasons, the most infamous extermination camps were in Occupied Poland,  since Poland had the greatest number of Jews living in Europe.

4. At various concentration and extermination camps, the Nazis conducted medical experiments on their prisoners, which included placing subjects in pressure chambers, testing drugs on them, freezing them, attempting to change eye color by injecting chemicals into children's eyes, and various amputations and other surgeries that were often conducted without anesthesia. The most notorious of these Nazi physicians was Dr. Josef Mengele, who worked in Auschwitz. According to one witness, Mengele sewed together a set of twins named Guido and Ina, who were about 4 years old, from the back in an attempt to create Siamese twins. Their parents were able to get some morphine and kill them to end their suffering.

5. The most commonly cited figure for the total number of Jews killed is six million—around 78 percent of the 7.3 million Jews in occupied Europe at the time. Additionally, the Nazis murdered approximately two to three million Soviet POWs, two million ethnic Poles, up to 1,500,000 Romani, 200,000 handicapped, political and religious dissenters, 15,000 homosexuals, and 5,000 Jehovah's Witnesses, bringing the total genocide toll to around 11 million.