- President Ronald Reagan’s remarkable Pointe du Hoc speech carries lessons about honour and valor that hold true today.
- D-Day was a turning point for the free world. It still is.
With poignant, haunting words, President Ronald Reagan reminded the world of America’s power – and of its related responsibility.
“We’re here to mark that day in history when the Allied armies joined in battle to reclaim this continent to liberty,” Reagan said on the 40th anniversary of D-Day. “For four long years, much of Europe had been under a terrible shadow. Free nations had fallen, Jews cried out in the camps, millions cried out for liberation. Europe was enslaved, and the world prayed for its rescue. Here in Normandy the rescue began. Here the Allies stood and fought against tyranny in a giant undertaking unparalleled in human history.”
What would our reality look like if the allied armies had not “reclaim[ed] this continent to liberty?” More free nations would have fallen. More Jews would have cried out in camps. More people would have cried out for liberation.
Reagan’s Pointe du Hoc speech was a glittering rhetorical success from the moment Peggy Noonan first wrote the words that Reagan would deliver. But the speech, which was created to honour and commemorate the past, also held key lessons for the future – lessons that are relevant to this day.
“The men of Normandy had faith that what they were doing was right, faith that they fought for all humanity, faith that a just God would grant them mercy on this beachhead or on the next. It was the deep knowledge — and pray God we have not lost it — that there is a profound, moral difference between the use of force for liberation and the use of force for conquest,” Reagan said.
The scar tissue from the Iraq war has sometimes blurred our national commitment to using force, when necessary, in the pursuit of justice. But the boys of Pointe du Hoc were there “to liberate, not to conquer.” They “knew that some things are worth dying for.”
What are those things? “One’s country is worth dying for, and democracy is worth dying for, because it’s the most deeply honorable form government ever devised by man.” Speaking to the veterans, Reagan remarked, “all of you loved liberty. … All of you were willing to fight tyranny, and you knew the people of your countries were behind you.”
Those words do not resemble the “America first” rhetoric espoused by President Donald Trump. Noonan and Reagan warned of the dangers of that kind of isolationism.
“We in America have learned bitter lessons from two World Wars,” she wrote. Some of those lessons: “It is better to be here ready to to protect the peace, than to take blind shelter across the sea, rushing to respond only after freedom is lost. We’ve learned that isolationism never was and never will be an acceptable response to tyrannical governments with an expansionist intent.”
On the day he delivered this historical speech, Reagan called for us to “continue to stand for the ideals for which they lived and died.” We still can. We still should.
Here’s to the boys of Pointe du Hoc. Here’s to “the men who took the cliffs,” to “the champions who helped free a continent,” to “the heroes who helped end a war.”
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