When manna like this falls from heaven it’s almost enough to make you believe in, well, heaven. I’m generally frustrated at the realization that I’m basically a man without a political party–too poor and yet too smart to be a Republican, and too smart and yet too practical to be a Democrat–but there are times when, along with double the disgruntlement, that I enjoy double the hilarity. It is in times like these that I thank the Great Spaghetti Monster for men like Ted Cruz, and the n’er-do-wells who mock him. This is going to be fun.
It can be argued that the Germans were already doomed; they just didn’t know it yet. Morally bereft, overextended, overconfident, and reaping the seeds sown by poking the Russian bear to their north and east, the “Thousand-Year Reich” would not last a decade. For millions, it could not end soon enough. Despite its losses in Africa, the defeat of its axis partner, Italy, and the terrible grinding will of the Soviets, who had clearly shown they would fight not only to the last man, but to the last woman and child, the Nazi war machine in the spring of 1944 could still muster terrible destructive force–and millions still languished under the twisted, genocidal psychopathy of Adolf Hitler and his minions. They had to be stopped.
And they would be. Seventy years ago today American, British, and Canadian forces slogged onto the heavily fortified beaches of Normandy, France under a withering firestorm and into the arms of mayhem and, for many, death. I can’t imagine it. YOU can’t imagine it. Steven Spielberg might have come close, albeit on a very small scale, in the opening moments of Saving Private Ryan–the clip below is not for folks prone to nightmares.
Over a third of the men in the first wave of the assault were dead within the first hour–many in the first two minutes. Immediately besieged by an onslaught of machine gun fire, many saved themselves by jumping from their landing craft into the churning waters, only to drown under the weight of their equipment. Those who found purchase in the waves faced a virtual wall of gunfire, artillery, and mines placed amidst carefully arranged obstacles.
The survivors in the surf now faced a thousand feet of beach, all of it in the gun sights of those fortified German emplacements in the bluffs above. It must have been impossible for some of them to believe, but within eleven months Hitler would be dead, and the German war machine in ruins. Much of the fiercest fighting of the war remained–not just in Europe, but in the Pacific, as well–but D-Day was the real beginning of the end.
But I’m not here to teach you a history lesson that hundred have done before me, each a hundred times better than I could–and all of it a simple google search away. You can manage that yourself. I’m just here to remind you what was given, freely and willingly. And if you’re lucky enough to know a some surly old codger who spent some time in uniform back in the day, today would be an excellent time to pat him on the back.
As I write this, I find that my words are inadequate–better to show. This collection of photos is excellent, especially for the somewhat rare color pictures that are included. I find that the black and white pictures that were standard in that time create a certain disconnect, the shades of grey in some senses otherworldly in their starkness.
It was Sunday night, the sofa was soft, the down comforter warm, and the sun was shining on Downton Abbey–it’s always shining on the glacially slow BBC soap opera, you might have noticed, despite what I’ve heard about England, yet it was brighter still inside the ice arena in Sochi, Russia where the world’s finest ice dancers were doing their thing in the short program–see how I’m talking in cool skater jargon?–and lighting things up. We tuned out of England and headed for the East.
I don’t know what the hell I’m looking at, of course–I know basketball and football (American Football, the best kind 😉 )–but all I know about skating is that skaters have to fit “swizzles” into their programs. Otherwise, I’m judging what looks good, what looks fluid and graceful and, well, (sorry, gentlemen) what looks pretty. Last night, they all looked pretty, and it doesn’t help that I’m a guy who, despite feminist leanings, can’t help noticing how beautiful some of these women are–muscles, smiles, short skirts–it’s better than art on a wall. I’m generally too beguiled by the beauty and the unfamiliar sport to be any kind of judge, unless one of them teeters visibly or falls down.
The top couples last night all stayed upright. We caught Canadians Scott Moir and Tessa Virtue early on and decided they were unbeatable, even if the young lady didn’t have the most perfect figure skater name ever. Tessa Virtue. A name like that doesn’t even need a publicist–at least not in theory.
A short while later, we enjoyed watching a young Russian pair, Elena Ilinykh and Nikita Katsalapov, and you know what? Yep, they looked unbeatable, though I thought–or, more appropriately, felt something that made me wonder if the Canadians were not just a little bit better. At it turned out, it was close, but I was right.
The next skaters were noticed were a French pair, Nathalie Pechalat and Fabian Bourzat, who I think I liked best of all, up to that point, and guess what: I thought they looked unbeatable. It doesn’t hurt that Ms. Pechalat wore the most beautiful, most exuberant smile on her already beautiful face throughout their program–I wanted them to do well on spirit alone, and they did, landing briefly in third place behind Ilinykh/Katsalapov and Virtue/Moir.
They had to know it would be short-lived. Even though another young Canadian pair–Kaitlyn Weaver, Andrew Poje--came out and gave a great showing–not quite unbeatable, but fluid and spirited, and Ms. Weaver’s brilliant blue dress was the hands-down scene stealer of the evening, the night belonged to the last couple to skate.
It seemed like NBC packed an especically dense set of commercials into the space before Meryl Davis and Charlie White took the ice, and why shouldn’t they? This all-American couple of student-athletes has been anointed as the face of the American Olympic team this year, and for all intents and purposes they were a very good choice: smart, upbeat, and wholesome–some of my favorite images of this Olympics have been of White and Davis off the ice, cheering for their team-mates and consoling them when things haven’t turned for the best. You have to like that.
Of course, they’re also the best skaters in the world right now, and while I can’t quantify why, it was clear the moment they hit the ice–even to a neophyte like myself. I could not see, so much as I felt the difference–the skill and the surety of their performance, the confidence in every movement. It is their moment, they knew it, and their world record finish pretty much cemented the fact–while simultaneously burying all but the most emphatic–and nationalistic–rumors of score fixing that had been swirling around. Meanwhile, back and Downton Abbey, absolutely nothing had happened.