Seventy years ago this Friday, the world witnessed an event that might never unfold again.
Under a cloud of secrecy, enough people to overflow the nation’s largest college football stadiums stormed five French beaches to gain a crucial foothold in the Nazi-occupied country.
But such an invasion is difficult to foresee happening again, experts say.
Technological improvements in weaponry and fighting styles, not to mention incredible advances in communication and publicity, would make such a plan difficult to foresee occurring again, said Peter Hahn, the chair of the Ohio State University department of history.
“There are various aspects of D-Day that seemingly have become relics of the past, including the division of the world into two spheres that Western civilized people consider good and evil or just and unjust,” Hahn said.
About 160,000 Allied troops were aided by superior air and naval capabilities as they pushed through German forces. Bullets and bodies mattered most.
“You’ve got ships maneuvering in very narrow waters that would be extraordinarily vulnerable to 21st century coordinates, the missiles and the like,” said John McManus, the author of several books including “The Dead and Those About to Die: D-Day: The Big Red One at Omaha Beach.”
The battle that day also featured powerful armies geared up to full strength in a scene where a loss could have been demoralizing for the Allies.
“You’ve got major technologically advanced societies really almost mobilized to full capacity to fight it out in what really kind of amounts to a showdown battle that’s going to decide much of the course of human history,” said McManus, who also is a professor of U.S. military history at Missouri University of Science and Technology. “You don’t ordinarily see that kind of thing play out. I would be hard-pressed to believe this ever could really happen again that way.”
Trying to get such a massive presence in one place without notice would be tough to fathom in today’s age, Hahn said. Millions of military personnel gathered in Great Britain for the attack.
“They were allowed to write letters, but the letters had to go through the hands of the censors and they were censored ruthlessly so that no military secrets were revealed,” Hahn said. “Today’s soldiers tend to have cell phones or email accounts, instant communication with them. The infrastructure of communication has become so sophisticated that it would be extremely difficult to amass forces of that size and scope and keep the intelligence out of the hands of the enemy in an era of Twitter, Facebook, cell phones (and) cameras everywhere.”
More than 10,000 Allies were either killed, wounded, missing or captured on D-Day, according to The National WWII Museum website. At home, Americans sacrificed through rationing. McManus said he could foresee a time where Americans unite against a common foe.
“If you were on the homefront, even though the American people were relatively lucky compared to all of the other participants, you felt the war and you kind of sacrificed for it some way, shape or form,” he said. “We haven’t had that really in any of our wars since then. It’s been soldiers who have done most of the sacrificing.”
Hahn said history tells us that a polarized America can stand together as one to overcome a significant obstacle.
“There were some intense debates between isolationists and internationalists in the late 30s and especially in the 1939-41 period,” Hahn said. “The country was badly divided on the extent to which it should get involved.
“Then came Pearl Harbor and suddenly the country was unified and of one mind.”
For mobile users, click here to see the map of surviving World War II veterans by state.