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The O. Zone: There is hope this D-Day as Colorado voters voice support for democracy

June 6, 2024, 12:08 pm

A U.S. Army helmet atop a captured German machine gun, marking the location at Pointe du Hoc of fallen comrades on June 6, 1944 (courtesy of the National World War II Museum).

On today’s 80th anniversary of the Allied invasion of France (D-Day) that accelerated the defeat of Adolph Hitler’s Nazi regime less than a year later, my mind is on the beaches of Normandy that I visited as a kid and the ongoing Voter Voices survey that identified  “democracy and good government” as the top concern for Colorado voters in 2024.

So many Americans died 80 years ago storming Omaha and Utah beaches (2,501 of 4,414 Allied troops on June 6, 1944, alone, and 73,000 Allied troops overall in the ensuing Battle of Normandy), that it’s heartening to know the cause of their ultimate sacrifice is still cherished by thousands of Coloradans 80 years later. They did not die in vain; our democracy still survives.

Many of those soldiers of the U.S. First Army weren’t much more than kids themselves that day – wide-eyed 18- and 19-year-olds not that much older than me when I visited Normandy in late March of 1975. I doubt they had the clarity of a clear-cut “democracy over fascism” motivation in mind that bloody day, but clearly they knew they were part of a greater cause worth dying for.

As a 10-year-old in 1975, 30 years after D-Day at the time, I stood on those chilly stretches of sand, a cold wind sweeping in off the English Channel, and tried to imagine pulling myself out of the surf and running headlong into withering waves of machine-gun fire spilling down from the concrete gun emplacements still visible above Omaha Beach.

I marveled at the 100-foot cliffs of Pointe du Hoc scaled by Rudder’s Rangers to take out German heavy artillery, and I tried to get my childish mind around the sheer terror of the largest amphibious invasion in world history and a one-day American death toll that surpassed the entirety of our nation’s 20 years in Afghanistan.

How many of us would rally behind the flag now to fight for democracy on foreign shores? How many of us would even agree on what democracy means, and whether ending fascism and the wanton slaughter of millions of people based solely on their ethnicity and religion is a worthy cause?

At age 10, digging up the driveshaft of DUWK amphibious truck on Omaha Beach with my brother (something actually permitted in the 1970s), I was just starting to ask some of these questions. I hadn’t really thought much about why I was even in France, why my U.S. Air Force lawyer of a father and our family of five was stationed in Bitburg, Germany, why air-raid sirens sounded during base alerts and F-4 Phantom jets were scrambled, 30 years after World War II.

The passage of 50 years, and events from the fall of the Berlin Wall and the U.S.S.R. in the early 1990s to the Russian invasion of Ukraine in 2022 (it really started with Crimea in 2014) have brought me a lot more clarity. I’m so glad so many of my fellow Coloradans seem to get it too.

We aren’t supplying arms to Ukraine because we want to defeat the Russian people and impose our will on another sovereign nation. The United States is rightfully standing up for democracy in places like Ukraine, choosing freedom and personal liberty over the authoritarianism of Vladimir Putin and his ill-fated bid to revive the U.S.S.R and suppress democracy in Europe.

That’s why I designated my top three concerns in the Voter Voices survey as “Democracy and good government”, followed by “personal liberty” and “national security/America’s role in the world”. Top of mind, I’m much more concerned about a more just and sustainable economy, true, reasonable immigration reform, and mitigating the worst impacts of climate change.

But none of those things matter if we allow populist authoritarians in this country to destroy our democracy and continue to strip away our basic freedoms.

I hope all Americans, but especially the living members of the Greatest Generation who sacrificed so much in World War II, will keep in mind what’s a stake in the 2024 election — the basic freedoms that could be stripped away at the polls. Hitler relied on complacency and division amongst his rivals to rise to power in the 1930s; that cannot happen here.

That’s why I’m heartened by the Voter Voices survey finding that about 28% of both moderates and liberals are most concerned about democracy and good government this election (their top issue), while nearly 10% of conservatives identified democracy as their third most critical issue.

I’m also thrilled now to see so many young people about the age of those soldiers storming the beaches of Normandy 80 years ago currently exercising two of the most important freedoms intrinsic to our form of democracy: voting and peacefully protesting.

Beyond the fact the U.S. now has an all-volunteer, professional military and there’s no longer a compulsory draft that drew such massive street protests during the Vietnam War, I’ve always wondered why our students haven’t more actively opposed misguided (and undeclared) U.S. wars that have destabilized the Middle East for more than two decades now.

Now, as students and outside activists gather on college campuses across the nation – including my alma mater of Metropolitan State University of Denver – to rightly question blind U.S. support of an autocratic, increasingly isolated Benjamin Netanyahu regime in Israel, I fully support the democratic obligation to peacefully and loudly shout down bad policy.

I just urge everyone involved to remember the victims of mass rape and torture on Israel’s 9/11 when Hamas terrorists invaded Israel’s sovereign (and Judaism’s ancient) homeland on Oct. 7 and slaughtered so many innocents. Like our own 9/11, disproportionate response (invading Afghanistan and Iraq) must end, and far too many innocent Palestinians have been killed in Gaza.

The real enemy on both sides is religious extremism and the anti-democratic, authoritarian forces at play in both Israel and surrounding Arab nations. It is possible to be both anti-Netanyahu and anti-Hamas without being either anti-Palestinian or antisemitic.

Never forget that before our nation unified behind defeating fascism and imperialist aggression in Europe and Japan in World War II, the America First Committee enlisted aviation hero Charles Lindbergh to accuse Jews of pulling the U.S. into the war. I’ll never forget, because after my parents took me to the beaches of Normandy, they took me to Dachau.

The greatest thing about our country is currently being able to write articles like this one or gather in the streets to protest against virtually anything without fear of government reprisals. Don’t violate the law, don’t forcefully occupy public spaces, don’t interfere with basic government functions like certifying the Electoral College, and you should not be subject to police arrest or overreach.

I despise the message a Jan. 6 insurrectionist sent by wearing a Camp Auschwitz sweatshirt, but I stringently defend his right to wear it peacefully outside the Capitol that day. Unfortunately for our democracy, he chose to trespass with a violent mob to overturn a free and fair election. Equally, as the son of an Air Force veteran during the Cold War, I find t-shirts declaring “I’d rather be a Russian than Democrat” both unpatriotic and offensive on D-Day and every day, but again, I support the First Amendment rights of the people wearing those misguided shirts.

I know youth voters like my 20-year-old son who will vote in his first presidential election in November are not thrilled to be choosing between a pair of candidates who were either alive or soon to be born on D-Day, but I hope they look closely at the differences between the two men.

Rampant capitalism and income inequality have dramatically altered the economic and social landscape for young voters since D-Day, and I understand their frustration. But the best way to change things is by voting and peacefully protesting, and all signs point to Gen Z doing both in growing numbers.

However, a vote for convicted felon and former President Donald Trump in November, a vote for a third-party candidate, or failure to vote at all will lead to further erosion of personal freedoms and institutional democratic norms. Just start with the fact Trump wants to deport pro-Palestinian protestors, and then couple that policy with his plans for mass-deportation camps.

Trump is proud he facilitated the U.S. Supreme Court ending nearly 50 years of protecting abortion rights – a stunning reversal of a half century of women and families determining their own reproductive health, not the government.

Also at risk, the freedom to go out in public without being gunned down as all commonsense gun safety laws are rolled back; the freedom to vote, especially for people of color; the freedom to choose alternate forms of electricity and transportation; and the freedom to breathe clean air and drink clean water (Trump has made sweeping promises to the fossil fuel industries).

Trump’s Project 2025 plan is a dystopian one I think even the veterans of D-Day would reject if they knew more about it. As Albert Einstein said after rejecting Nazism in favor of American democracy, “The world is in greater peril from those who tolerate or encourage evil than from those who actually commit it. Silence would have made me feel guilty of complicity.”

Start by breaking your own silence and filling out this short Voter Voices survey. Then find a way to peacefully protest against policies you disagree with and in support of policies you want to see enacted, both publicly and at the polls. In the end, that it what so many died for on D-Day.

Editor’s note: The O. Zone is a recurring opinion column by RealVail.com publisher David O. Williams. 

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David O. Williams

Managing Editor at RealVail
David O. Williams is the editor and co-founder of RealVail.com and has had his awarding-winning work (see About Us) published in more than 75 newspapers and magazines around the world, including 5280 Magazine, American Way Magazine (American Airlines), the Anchorage Daily News (Alaska), the Anchorage Daily Press (Alaska), Aspen Daily News, Aspen Journalism, the Aspen Times, Beaver Creek Magazine, the Boulder Daily Camera, the Casper Star Tribune (Wyoming), the Chicago Tribune, Colorado Central Magazine, the Colorado Independent (formerly Colorado Confidential), Colorado Newsline, Colorado Politics (formerly the Colorado Statesman), Colorado Public News, the Colorado Springs Gazette, the Colorado Springs Independent, the Colorado Statesman (now Colorado Politics), the Colorado Times Recorder, the Cortez Journal, the Craig Daily Press, the Curry Coastal Pilot (Oregon), the Daily Trail (Vail), the Del Norte Triplicate (California), the Denver Daily News, the Denver Gazette, the Denver Post, the Durango Herald, the Eagle Valley Enterprise, the Eastside Journal (Bellevue, Washington), ESPN.com, Explore Big Sky (Mont.), the Fort Morgan Times (Colorado), the Glenwood Springs Post-Independent, the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel, the Greeley Tribune, the Huffington Post, the King County Journal (Seattle, Washington), the Kingman Daily Miner (Arizona), KUNC.org (northern Colorado), LA Weekly, the Las Vegas Sun, the Leadville Herald-Democrat, the London Daily Mirror, the Moab Times Independent (Utah), the Montgomery Journal (Maryland), the Montrose Daily Press, The New York Times, the Parent’s Handbook, Peaks Magazine (now Epic Life), People Magazine, Powder Magazine, the Pueblo Chieftain, PT Magazine, the Rio Blanco Herald Times (Colorado), Rocky Mountain Golf Magazine, the Rocky Mountain News, RouteFifty.com (formerly Government Executive State and Local), the Salt Lake Tribune, SKI Magazine, Ski Area Management, SKIING Magazine, the Sky-Hi News, the Steamboat Pilot & Today, the Sterling Journal Advocate (Colorado), the Summit Daily News, United Hemispheres (United Airlines), Vail/Beaver Creek Magazine, Vail en Español, Vail Health Magazine, Vail Valley Magazine, the Vail Daily, the Vail Trail, Westword (Denver), Writers on the Range and the Wyoming Tribune Eagle. Williams is also the founder, publisher and editor of RealVail.com and RockyMountainPost.com.

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