(W)Archives: Manning Up

June 6, 2014

Seventy years ago today, American, British, and Canadian forces under the overall command of General Dwight D. Eisenhower landed on the beaches of Normandy, beginning the liberation of France from the Nazis. Though they came at a horrible cost, the landings were a success. June 6th, 1944, will live forever as one of the greatest triumphs in western military history.

But it might have gone very differently. Amphibious landings are among the most dangerous of military operations, always teetering on the edge of disaster. The landings could perfectly well have gone down in the annals of history as one of the west’s greatest military disasters.

If that had happened, General Eisenhower was ready. The day before the landings he wrote a failure message (though he misdated it July 5th). It resides today in the U.S. National Archives. It is short and to the point. Eisenhower did not—could not—risk his life on D-Day but he risked the next most important thing he had.

Over the last decade there have been some egregious cases of senior officers in the U.S. military blaming others for the failures that happened on their watch, but Eisenhower was cut from different cloth. He was a true leader. Just read the note.


Mark Stout is a Senior Editor at War on the Rocks. He is the Director of the MA Program in Global Security Studies at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Arts and Sciences in Washington, D.C.


Photo credit: The U.S. Army