Saturday, June 6, 2015

Whitewashing 'The Greatest Generation': Never Forget the African-American Veterans of D-Day

Again, I would like to thank the folks who have thrown some money into the online donation bucket during our annual fundraiser. It is very much appreciated, welcome, and will be put to good use. We are 50 percent to our goal after the first week of the fundraising drive. Fingers crossed, the remaining gap can be quickly closed, and I can then turn off my NPR fundraising voice in the upcoming week. 
Today is the 71st anniversary of the Allies' assault, and successful landing, known as the "D-Day" invasion of Fortress Europe during World War 2. 

I was going to offer up a quick weekend post on the African-American veterans of the D-Day landing--men who have been thrown down the memory hole by White America's mythmaking machine. 

Today is also the day when I "celebrate", i.e. commemorate my father's passing to the great beyond. 

I sat down to do some sharing, then I remembered that I had already written a similar piece in the year before. Writing online is a type of exercise in curating and journaling. 

There is several years of content here on WARN and 

One of my ongoing tasks is converting some of that material for a book project. 

[I have had several inquiries. None have been a good fit. One inquiry was with a major commercial publisher and our visions were not aligned. Who knows, maybe that request will go out through these Internets and an agent or editor from a press will email back with an inquiry and thoughts on the matter.]

It has been quite a journey--one that continues to this day.


My father died 11 years ago today. I used to remember his passing with the reminder that he passed away on the Sunday before Father's Day during the Sopranos while Tony ran away from the feds as his boss was arrested. His passing was expected; it freed him.

When we are going through stressful moments other more obvious coincidences can be forgotten or misplaced in our memories.

At the time of his death, I did not realize--and for several years afterwards--that my father's mortal departure also coincided with the (then) 60th anniversary of the D-Day landings.

He was a World War 2 combat veteran who "passed" in order to be in a unit with "friends" from his neighborhood. I think it makes for a better story to remind myself that he had to pay the boatman a bribe to cross the River Styx for the journey to the afterlife on the anniversary of D-Day--as opposed to the sort of liminal, wishy washy observation that he died the week before Father's Day.

In the hagiography fueled American Exceptionalism remembrances of D-Day this weekend, and the flat Hollywood Clinton era pop culture notion that there is a cohort rightfully called "The Greatest Generation", it would behoove us to also remember that the men and women who fought World War 2 were also human beings.

The Greatest Generation was flawed. They were not divine giants, Nephilim, or half-breed Titans. Many, if not most of them, were racists who supported Jim and Jane Crow. There were millions of the Greatest Generation who benefited from the G.I. Bill and VA/FHA housing programs while black and brown veterans were denied those same fruits and benefits of citizenship as earned through military service. Of course, many World War 2 veterans took their experiences from the military and worked to make the United States a more egalitarian society.

Like so many other important and memorialized events, the (white) American public memory of D-Day is also processed through the white racial frame. The defeat of the Axis powers by the Allies in World War 2 was a multiracial, multi ethnic, international project. White Americans did not defeat the Nazis; All Americans helped to defeat the Nazis and their allies.

In all, the anniversary of D-Day should be much more than an obligatory viewing of war porn like Saving Private Ryan or Band of Brothers. Instead, it should be a moment of simultaneously memorializing and giving respect to the soldiers of World War 2, while also discussing how their victory helped to create the present. This includes the good (a multiracial democracy) as well as the bad (how the State created suburbia, and in doing so, further stratified wealth and income opportunities by race).

We must also never forget that Black Americans were present on D-Day. When you overhear a friend, colleague, or stranger talking about World War 2 and the Greatest Generation today or this weekend, do make sure to remind them of that fact.

While many on the White Right would like to deny said reality, the events of D-Day and World War 2 are the history and birthright of all Americans.


The Sanity Inspector said...

The Greatest Generation, in spite of their flaws? Yes. You are what you do when it counts.

My condolences to you on this personal anniversary.

chauncey devega said...

I appreciate that. Funny thing, I don't feel like condolences are the right word--although I really appreciate the sentiment. He was not himself, was suffering, and wanted to go on the next journey. You are the master of quotes, what would be a more fitting one or apt description?

chauncey devega said...

Coates' piece on reparation comes up here again. There should be hearings and lawsuits by those surviving vets and their relatives against the U.S. gov't for those crimes. I need to do some research as that idea is not particularly novel.

Kyle Younger said...

I believe that Brokaw's glorification of "The Greatest Generation" is simplistic at best. Watching him this morning on Morning Joe just filled me with so much angst that I had to turn the television off. This is not to discredit the service and sacrifice that these men made. However, the presentation was so one-sided that you'd believe that there were no contributions made by blacks and women. I think a book about their plight, having few rights in this country, yet fighting bravely for the future rights of their children is a story worth telling...and Brokaw needs to have tears in his eyes when he hears how other Americans treated other Americans at a time of war. Yet these mistreated Americans maintained their integrity!

chauncey devega said...

You didn't know that it was only white men who won WW2? And that they were all Americans? Geez....

Courtney H. said...

Thank you for posting this video!

chauncey devega said...

You are the master of quotes. You should write up a list of 10 essential quotes and found wisdom for WARN. Would be great to post here. Email me if you have the time or inclination.

joe manning said...

The courts will ultimately decide the reparations case. If a D gets elected president in 2016 I'm sure class action suits will follow, in anticipation packing the courts the other way.

joe manning said...

Considering the stakes of WW2 I think arguably "the greatest generation" is somewhat applicable. Its ironic that so many of the sons and daughters of the vets that defeated fascism now embrace neo-fascism.

joe manning said...

African and indigenous American veterans should especially be honored because they fought for everybody, black, white, brown, yellow. This despite their being discriminated against in the "the land of the free." And even today they protest to protect the rights of all humanity via the Civil Rights and the Black Lives Matter Movements. They are the greatest generation and so are their direct descendants.

chauncey devega said...

I get the understanding of race, struggle, and martial service. But damn, risking your life for a country that mistreats you? Highlights those men as so brave and strong.

Gable1111 said...

It's very difficult to reconcile that one, although since the Revolutionary War the thought has been that if blacks fought and sacrificed they would earn in the eyes of their countrymen freedom if not equality.

joe manning said...

Its a "better the devil you know" thing.