80 years after D-Day, what have Americans learned?

Matthew R. Bishop
6 min readJun 6, 2024

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American soldiers storm the beaches of Normandy, France, on the morning of June 6, 1944

80 years ago today, 133,000 Allied soldiers successfully executed the largest amphibious assault in world history, landing on the beaches of Normandy under heavy German artillery fire to confront and defeat an evil empire committed to global conquest and to the subjugation, enslavement or outright annihilation of all other races, religions and creeds in the world outside of its so-called Master Race.

Adolf Hitler did not seize power in a vacuum. The German people handed power to him, and they did that primarily because they were tired, scared and angry. They were tired of the failures of the Weimar Republic. They were tired of struggling to survive. They were tired of choosing between politicians who they thought made nothing better. In their anger, around 37% of German voters ultimately cast their ballots for the Nazi party and helped Adolf Hitler turn Germany from a republic into a dictatorship. Hitler never won a majority of the vote. He didn’t need to. The only thing he needed was for a majority of Germans to give up, stop caring, and let him have his way.

Like Hitler, Trump does not need a majority of votes in order to win. What he does need is for Americans to not care, to give up, and to do nothing.

When Donald Trump borrows the exact verbatim language from Hitler’s key speeches and Nazi slogans time and time again, year after year, it is not coincidence. He knows what he is doing, and he means to do it. When he refers to those who disagree with him as “vermin” or says that his enemies are “poisoning the blood” of American genetic bloodlines, Donald Trump is deliberately invoking the legacy of the Nazi regime and choosing to use the same playbook and imagery, sometimes word for word, that Hitler used to identify his political enemies and to consolidate power in the 20s, 30s and 40s. Every part of this is deliberate.

Hitler tried once before to overthrow the German Republic. After his attempted coup in 1923, the German state handed Hitler a very lenient sentence and allowed him to go free after only a brief imprisonment. The state did not pursue any serious prosecution, and they did not bar him from politics.

The United States justice system, following Donald Trump’s attempted coup in 2020–21, has yet to deliver any sentence at all. All three branches of U.S. federal government have allowed Trump to continue with his 2024 campaign, and none have held him accountable for his failed coup.

Hitler then proceeded to publish essays and books clearly identifying his intentions — including intentions of war and genocide. The people, the media, and the international community all chose to ignore these warnings, opting instead for a kind of wishful magical thinking, an enchanted denialism, where they could pretend that Hitler did not mean anything of what he said.

In 1938, long after Mein Kampf had been published, Time Magazine even went so far as to name Adolf Hitler their Man of the Year. Here was the great hero of Germany, redeeming and restoring the rightful German nation, making Germany great again, as the Nazis used to say — nevermind what Adolf had to say about those pesky Jews and Gypsies.

But it was not only journalists who swooned over Hitler. World leaders themselves made similar mistakes, assuming that Hitler would gravitate more towards the political center as he gained more power.

Even many Jewish people themselves remained in Germany as more and more red flags appeared, constantly telling themselves and each other — time and time again — that things could not actually be that serious, and that they certainly could not get any worse. They could, and of course they did.

And now, 80 years later, I am deeply afraid that the American people have forgotten the most valuable lessons from all of these mistakes made across all of society. I am afraid that most Americans, when they hear “D-Day,” think only of some Hollywood action movie with heroic Superman-like GI soldiers, ignoring all the many mistakes that made D-Day necessary, ignoring all the opportunities we now have to learn from those mistakes and to do better.

Today, a man is running for the presidency of our country who plotted to overthrow our republic, who tried to have his political enemies lynched and assassinated even as the whole world was watching on live TV, who tried to establish himself as an unelected dictator over a post-republic America. Donald Trump risked total civil war to accomplish these objectives, and he very nearly got his wish. He will try this again at any cost. Donald Trump is a terrorist, an insurrectionist, and a hostile domestic enemy of the American republic. He poses a threat to every American citizen and to the idea of self-government itself.

Many Americans remain reluctant to admit the truth of all this to themselves and to their fellow citizens. Many even in the media — our own colleagues — tacitly dismiss it all, continuing to cover Donald Trump as if he is just any ordinary political candidate. They talk casually about speeches, debates, polling numbers, campaign events and so on, as if we are not nearing the brink of democracy’s end.

We Americans are today repeating the exact same errors of the interwar period. In all cases, we prefer to live in that same wishful, peaceful land of magical denialism that the Germans of the 1920s and 1930s chose to retreat to — as if something cannot harm us so long as we do not open our eyes. Unfortunately, that’s not how it works.

In our retreat from reality, we are sleepwalking directly into an American dictatorship. Current polling data indicates that Donald Trump will win the November 2024 election and become President of the United States once again. Despite a record-breaking U.S. economy, rising U.S. wages, strong and meaningful legislation on a range of key issues both foreign and domestic, and a rebound in U.S. power around the world — all of this under Joe Biden — it is Donald Trump who is inexplicably expected to win the Electoral College vote, even though Biden is expected to win the popular vote by several million.

When Donald Trump talks casually about staying in office after the end of his second term and then serving a third or fourth term, do not make the mistake of thinking that it is a joke. If Donald Trump regains the White House, he will never peacefully relinquish power for as long as he survives.

Around the world, our closest allies are already preparing for their divorce from the United States. They are getting ready to treat the United States like a global pariah. But Americans themselves are not preparing. We are not mobilizing. Instead, we are still living in our delusions, pretending as if none of this real.

80 years later, what have we learned from the most horrific war in world history? Do Americans today remember anything about why that war was even necessary in the first place? Will Americans keep those lessons in mind when they head to the polls in November, or will they shrug, will they give up and stay home, will they say that they do not care?

We have been repeating history so far, but we do not need to continue doing so. We do have a choice. We have the opportunity to learn, to grow, and to avoid the mistakes of previous generations. Whether or not we will do so is a choice Americans will have to make, and they will have to make it soon.

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Matthew R. Bishop

Matt is an author, journalist, international affairs writer, and a federal civilian crisis responder for the United States.