Thank you, Zazie, for reminding us that this is the sixty-third anniversary of the allied invasion of Normandy, for which we are grateful to the soldiers, sailors, and airmen of all the nations who risked their lives to free the world from the Nazi evil. Since this is a Canadian site, allow me to say, I know Zazie doesn't mean to thank us three, but rather these guys:
One historian writes:
[...] the Canadian soldiers scheduled to land at Juno Beach warily approached the coastline in their landing craft. Wet, cold, and seasick, they were also confident. On "Mike" sector, most of the 1st Hussars' tanks managed to get ashore in good order to provide covering fire as the Regina Rifles touched down just after 8:00 a.m. That was fortunate since the preliminary bombardment had failed to knock out many German defensive positions. The near invulnerable pill-boxes could be destroyed only by direct hits through their observation slits but, working in tandem, the tanks and infantry succeeded in fighting their way off the beach and into the nearby town of Courseulles-sur-Mer where they became engaged in house-to-house combat. They were moving inland by late afternoon. Other Reginas never reached the beaches – a reserve company suffered terrible losses when its landing craft struck mines hidden by high tide.
The company of Victoria's Canadian Scottish and most of The Royal Winnipeg Rifles at "Mike" made it ashore without much trouble, the beneficiaries of accurate naval gunfire which neutralized the German battery that dominated their area of the beach. The Winnipeg company at the western edge of Courseulles was not so lucky. There the bombardment had missed its targets, and the landing craft came under brisk gunfire while they were still far offshore. Although forced to "storm their positions cold [they] did so without hesitation," the unit's war diary noted. Many men died the instant they waded into the chest-high water. Nonetheless, the survivors advanced past the beach defences, cleared the minefields, and occupied the adjoining coastal villages. The victory did not come cheaply. In a few hours, the company lost almost three-quarters of its men.
But none of the "Little Black Devils", as the regiment was nicknamed, "had flinched from his task, no matter how tough it was [or] failed to display courage and energy and a degree of gallantry." They had not been alone. The Winnipegs' commanding officer later paid tribute to The 1st Hussars' "gallantry, skill and cool daring" in coming to the assistance of his battalion "time and again throughout D-Day, without thought of their own safety or state of fatigue. ..."
At "Nan" sector on Juno Beach, The North Shore Regiment and The Queen's Own Rifles also encountered enemy gun emplacements that had survived the preliminary bombardment. One concrete bunker and its defenders inflicted heavy casualties on the North Shores and destroyed several Sherman tanks of The Fort Garry Horse before being silenced. The North Shore's other companies made it ashore without incident, but needed six hours and armoured support to take the town of Tailleville.
Toronto's Queen's Own Rifles received the worst battering of any Canadian unit on D-Day. The initial bombardment on their sector of "Nan" had barely dented the enemy's fortifications. The DD tanks, supposed to "swim" in ahead of the infantry to diminish German resistance, had been forced by high waves to land after them, "within a few hundred yards of the muzzles of the beach defence guns," one tank commander recalled afterward. Only a few made it into action.
A half-hour late, the landing craft carrying the Queen's Own hit the beach more or less intact. Then the bloodbath began, the men making a mad dash from the shoreline to a seawall 183 metres away with no cover in between. A hidden German 88 opened up on the lead platoon of one company, decimating two-thirds of it before being silenced. Only a handful survived to get off the beach.
A second Queen's Own company landed directly in front of an untouched enemy strongpoint and very quickly lost half of its men, until three riflemen eliminated it with hand grenades and small arms fire. The price had been high, but the Queen's Own moved off the beach. The war diary of this, one of the oldest regiments in the Canadian Army, reflected the unit's unflagging spirit under onerous conditions.
The reserve units of the Canadian Scottish and the Chaudières arrived on the heels of the initial assault. The Scottish suffered the lightest casualties of any Canadian battalion on D-Day. But, coming in on the rising tide, many of Le Régiment de la Chaudière's landing craft struck concealed mines, and their occupants had no option but to throw off their equipment and swim to shore. Soon, both regiments were surging forward. By noon, the 9th Infantry Brigade was on its way to the beaches to exploit the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division's hard-won gains.
Although only one Canadian unit reached its D-Day objective, the first line of German defences had been completely smashed. By evening, Canadian troops had progressed further inland than any of their Allies. It was a remarkable achievement but, despite casualties being less than expected, it was an expensive one, too. "The German dead were littered over the dunes, by the gun positions," a Canadian journalist reported. "By them, lay Canadians in bloodstained battledress, in the sand and in the grass, on the wire and by the concrete forts. . . . They had lived a few minutes of the victory they had made. That was all." To ensure that D-Day would succeed, 340 Canadians had given their lives. Another 574 had been wounded and 47 taken prisoner. link to original source...
More D-Day links...
As a concluding thought, let me now change topics slightly. I find it interesting that a Frenchman, who has spent most of his adult life in American universities, has led the way in the post-war years in furthering our understanding of human sacrifice. Here, from an interview with Rene Girard, we can see the historical basis, in Judeo-Christian religion, for the understanding of self-sacrifice described above:
You have advocated what is seen as a “non-sacrificial” reading of the death of Christ that is significantly at odds with the usual understanding of that death as a “hilasterion” that satisfies the wrath and justice of God. Could you describe that view and how your study of the formation and maintenance of human cultures has led you to it?
RG: Oh, this is a question that will require a long answer! It is not quite true that I take what you have called a “non-sacrificial reading of the death of Christ.” We must establish first of all that there are two kinds of sacrifice.
Both forms are shown together (and I am not sure anywhere else) in the story of Solomon’s judgment in the third chapter of 1 Kings. Two prostitutes bring a baby. They are doubles engaging in a rivalry over what is apparently a surviving child. When Solomon offers to split the child, the one woman says “yes,” because she wishes to triumph over her rival. The other woman then says, “No, she may have the child,” because she seeks only its life. On the basis of this love, the king declares that “she is the mother.”
Note that it does not matter who is the biological mother. The one who was willing to sacrifice herself for the child’s life is in fact the mother. The first woman is willing to sacrifice a child to the needs of rivalry. Sacrifice is the solution to mimetic rivalry and the foundation of it. The second woman is willing to sacrifice everything she wants for the sake of the child’s life. This is sacrifice in the sense of the gospel. It is in this sense that Christ is a sacrifice since he gave himself “for the life of the world.”
What I have called “bad sacrifice” is the kind of sacrificial religion that prevailed before Christ. It originates because mimetic rivalry threatens the very survival of a community. But through a spontaneous process that also involves mimesis, the community unites against a victim in an act of spontaneous killing. This act unites rivals and restores peace and leaves a powerful impression that results in the establishment of sacrificial religion.
But in this kind of religion, the community is regarded as innocent and the victim is guilty. Even after the victim has been “deified,” he is still a criminal in the eyes of the community (note the criminal nature of the gods in pagan mythology).
But something happens that begins in the Old Testament. There are many stories that reverse this scapegoat process. In the story of Cain and Abel, the story of Joseph, the book of Job, and many of the psalms, the persecuting community is pictured as guilty and the victim is innocent. But Christ, the son of God, is the ultimate “scapegoat”—precisely because he is the son of God, and since he is innocent, he exposes all the myths of scapegoating and shows that the victims were innocent and the communities guilty.