Most of the readers of this site are American/Canadian, and British. Although, I recognize that this article might sound a bit Anglo (and specifically “American”) centric I think all readers will enjoy reading it. I will be posting a new page and article later today related to investments. However, I wanted to do a short and unique post devoted to the day.
History and is my favorite subject, even more than finance/investing. Originally I was accepted into George Washington Unversity, was going to major in a poli sci, since they have one of the best poli sci programs in the country. I had a last minute change of mind, which I am very happy that I made.
I think history is very important for all investors to understand. In fact, a deep understanding of European history back to the Roman Empire is very helpful in getting a grasp of the current European fiscal crisis. In particular, I think WWII and the immediate period following WWII are the most important to understand. These events shaped current day Western Europe, and the world. It also helps give a good understanding of Central and Eastern European countries, which were mostly under Soviet rule until the late 80s and early 90s. I am going to focus mostly on WWII, for this reason and as explained below.
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Unfortunately, Memorial Day has become highly commercialized, as have many other American holidays. Memorial Day is a time we commemorate (or should) those brave souls who sacrificed their lives. Without getting into politics; the last time Congress declared war was during WWII (I am in no way negating anyone who fought bravely and gave their lives in other wars like Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan etc). The declaration came shortly after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, and Hitler’s declaration of war on America. WWII was the most important war of the century; where the balance stood between a world of Fascism and barbarism unknown previously to mankind, and a world where the teachings of Thomas Jefferson would prevail. It is amazing to think that our two main opponents in WWII; Germany and Japan, are now not only among the largest economies in the world, but also among our greatest allies.
I find most people really interested in investing are well rounded in many other areas. . Personally, I find WWII the most intriguing because it brought horrific tragedy to my family. In addition, I am proud to say my grandfather commanded a platoon of soldiers and fought the Nazis in the Battle of Berlin.
It is ironic that memorial day falls so close to D-Day (June 6th or really the night of June 5th to be precise.) Although, the Holiday was enacted after the Civil War, the two dates fall very close to each-other.
Contrary to common thinking, the Battle to break the beachheads at Normandy wasnot a forgon conclusion. General. Eisenhower at the time was so worried that the attack would fail, that he even wrote a letter before the invasion blaming himself for the possible failure. In fact, the landings at Omaha Beach nearly failed due to numerous factors (which are beyond the scope of this article). General Omar Bradley, commander of the U.S. 1st army was close to evacuating the trooops at Omaha. The invasion was going so poorly that Brigadier General Norman Cota, who helped planned the invasion, decided to go Omaha beach under enemy fire and helped organize the troops. Cota, almost singlehandedly saved the entire Omaha invasion.
Additionally, many senior German officials thought the landing would come at Pas de Calais (Hitler mentioned both Normandy and Pas de Calais as possible invasion points). Therefore, the beaches were not guarded as heavily as they would have been had the Germans found out the real invasion plan. Additionally, Hitler was convinced even after the Normandy landings that the attack was diversionary. Hitler thought that a second invasion was coming from De Calais, and would not bring in reinforcements for nearly a month. This decision was crucial in the few weeks after D-Day, as the Allies were able to land two million troops within a few weeks after D-Day.
I also must mention Americans see D-Day as an American battle, and victory. This is totally not true and unfair to our brave Allies who fought courageously to free Europe. The British and Canadian Navies were responsible for supplying every single minesweeper for the invasion of Omaha. For the total Operation Overload, only 10% of the total mine-sweepers were American naval vessels. The invasion would have been impossible without the help of the minesweepers.
Additionally, England declared war on Germany on September 3rd 1939, Canada followed on September 10th 1939, America did not join until December 11th 1941. The British had a near death experience after the defeat of France, and The Battle of Britain began.
Out of the five beach landings on D-Day, two beaches were assigned to the British, one to the Canadian and two to the Americans. Additionally, the French free forces, and the Polish free army were involved in the invasion. The French resistance also helped bomb vital railroads and other infrastructure before the invasion began. In conjunction with D-Day, The Soviet Union launched a massive attack in the east on June 22nd1944 to increase pressure on the Germans, who were now facing a three front war (France, Italy, and in the East).
Let us all pay tribute to those who died so we could live free…
I have read dozens of books on WWII, Below are some of my favorites for anyone interested.
For further reading on the D-Day invasions: D-Day: D-Day: The Battle for Normandy by Antony Breevor, Six Armies in Normandy by John Keegan. Omaha Beach: D-Day, June 6, 1944 by Joseph Balkoski (this book gets more into the personal accounts of people who fought at Omaha from all the different armies).
For further general reading on the war, I am a huge fan of John Keegan and Antony Beevor and highly recommend the following books:
Additionally, two other favorites of mine include; The Second World War: A Complete History by Martin Gilbert, and the classic, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich: A History of Nazi Germany by William L. Shirer.
Feel free to leave other book recommendations, war stories, or anything related to the post below.