6 June 1944: D-Day

It is certainly proper that we take a moment in our busy schedules to remember the momentous event of 69 years ago today.

The 20th century, like any other, was fully provided with great and terrible moments, and instances that have changed the course of history. Nevertheless, if there be one day – one isolated day – that can truly be called the single most important day in the last century, then surely D-Day must be that day.

It was on the 50th anniversary of D-Day in 1994 that I began periodically sending these historical notes. I must mark this anniversary, especially as there has recently been something of a distressing trend to minimize or denigrate the significance of D-Day. I feel a personal connection to this crucial historic event because my late father, Bill Rawson, Senior, flew his first bombing missions, co-piloting a lead bomber at the age of 19, in support of the invasion.

Sixty-nine years ago, Tuesday 6 June 1944, the leaders of the forces allied against Hitler’s terrible Reich gambled men and materièl on a scale the likes of which the world had never seen (and which we may ardently hope it never will see again!) At 0630 on 6 June, the first waves of what was to become a force 156,000 strong hit the beaches of Normandy to establish an allied toehold on the continent of Europe and to effect the beginning of the end for Hitler’s ghastly regime.

We know, live with, and daily benefit from the results of this day, but we may easily forget the risks that were then associated with the invasion and we rarely explore the dire consequences that a failure would have brought. It is easy to ignore the possibility of failure in the light of 69 years of hindsight, and we often tend to see that which has happened as inevitable. But to those involved at the time, the risks were real and the possibility of failure was keenly sensed; General Eisenhower carefully prepared his official statement in the event of failure. As it turned out, the invasion was successful beyond the most optimistic projections of the Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Forces.

Planners’ predictions of the day’s casualties ranged from a low of 12% to a high of 60%; the actual results were far, far better despite the terrible fighting on “Bloody Omaha.” Recently, extensive archival research has been conducted to provide an accurate and precise total for the day’s actual casualties. Historically, the total allied casualties for that day were reported as fewer than 6,000, about 4% of the 156,000 troops landed that day, with about 2,400 of these being fatalities. The recent research, as reported at the British D-Day Museum website, gives revised totals standing at nearly 10,000 total casualties and almost 4,000 fatalities. The final human cost was enormous, but even adjusted to the newer 6% figure, it was far below what had been expected. And for a historical perspective, These losses were about the same as those which Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia incurred in a single day at Gettysburg.

The invasion inescapably wrought death and destruction on the population of Normandy. The towns, villages, and farms of Normandy suffered under allied bombing and Nazi shelling, and from the ground battles that were fought across the Norman countryside. A 2009 article in the New York Times estimates that there were nearly 20,000 French civilian casualties as a result of the 10-weeks of fighting that followed the invasion. Allied tanks and armor bulldozed great swathes through the ancient hedgerows of the picturesque Norman farms. Driving through Normandy in early July of 1977, I noted that it was still easy to identify the route that the tanks had taken, because the relative newness of the hedgerows that had regrown was plainly visible, even 33 years after the invasion.

Within a few hours of the start of the invasion, it became clear that the allied forces could hold their beachheads. It took weeks for the armies to break out of Normandy, and it was almost a year before Germany capitulated, yet the outcome plainly hinged upon this daring gamble. The gamble succeeded for many, many reasons, of course. But today we should remember and be grateful to the soldiers of Free France, Canada, Great Britain, and The United States of America, as well as those of smaller contingents from Australia, Belgium, Czechoslovakia, Greece, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, and Poland, whose courage and determination made the victory a reality, and who allowed us to live and grow in a world where the open brutality and blunt terrorism of nations is less common, and the horrors of war less frequent than in the first half of the 20th century, albeit such horror is undeniably still far too frequent.

And we should remember that there are hundreds of thousands of men and women serving us around the world today. Some are directly in harm’s way, others well-removed from the front. But all serve. These people, too, deserve our thanks. So as we remember and honor the men and women of what Tom Brokaw has aptly styled “The Greatest Generation,” we should also say thank you to those who today rise to the challenge and serve a great nation even unto their last full measure.

My thanks to all who have served and who do serve in any capacity. I am deeply grateful for your sacrifices. Thank you. It cannot be said too frequently. Thank you.

Jamie Rawson
Flower Mound, Texas

In war, resolution;
in defeat, defiance;
in victory magnanimity;
in peace, goodwill.

— Winston Churchill


Online Resources:

The Portsmouth British D-Day Museum Website:


The U.S. National D-Day Museum Website:


New York Times Article:



For D-Day, there are, I feel, three essential books. First and foremost is Cornelius Ryan’s classic The Longest Day. First published in 1951, Ryan’s work was the first comprehensive distillation of the massive official documentation of D-Day (from both the archives of the allies and the Third Reich) supplemented with extensive personal interviews. Ryan was a journalist, and the style of The Longest Day reflects that background, but his work is a landmark of contemporary history. An excellent and highly readable work, The Longest Day is an excellent starting point from which to learn more about D-Day.

The Longest Day: The Classic Epic of D-Day, Cornelius Ryan; Simon & Schuster, 1994: ISBN: 0671890913

John Keegan, sometimes called “the Dean of Military History” was inspired by his childhood memories of watching the preparations leading up to D-Day in rural England. He became a historian and specialized in military history, bursting onto the mainstream literary scene in 1976 with his outstanding The Face of Battle, a study of three famous battles, comparing and contrasting them. In 1982, Keegan published Six Armies In Normandy, an account of D-Day that goes further that Ryan’s by following the invasion up to the Liberation of Paris two months later. Keegan is a wonderfully engaging writer who never forgets that history should be as interesting to read as the best fiction, while maintaining impeccable academic standards.

Six Armies in Normandy: From D-Day to the Liberation of Paris, John Keegan; Penguin, 1994: ISBN: 0140235426

Stephen Ambrose completed D-Day as a tribute to the 50th anniversary 19 years ago. This book was one of Ambrose’s most successful efforts to reach beyond the academic world and into the mainstream. And in this book Ambrose managed to crossover into popular publishing without compromising academic rigorousness or integrity. (Later, his popular success led to unfortunate carelessness which resulted in accusations of plagiarism, but this book predates that time.) D-Day is scrupulously well-researched and includes material from thousands of interviews which Ambrose conducted. The book reads so breathtakingly that you find yourself almost anxious to learn the outcome! This is among Ambrose’s best, and a must-read to learn more about D-Day. Ambrose’s Citizen Soldiers is an excellent supplement, containing extensive material from interviews with participants from D-Day through to The Bulge.

D Day: June 6, 1944: The Climactic Battle of World War II, Stephen E. Ambrose; Simon & Schuster, 1995: ISBN: 068480137X.

An Excess Of Daring? Or Hubris?

It was 68 years ago that “Operation Market Garden,” the Western Allies’ attempt at a decisive blow to defeat the demoralized Germans on the Western Front, was acknowledged to have been failure. On 26 September 1944, after tens of thousands of troops had been deployed in history’s largest-ever airborne operation, with thousands of allied troops were dropped many miles deep into German-held territory, the operation was cancelled and such troops as could effectively withdraw were given the order to do so. Of the more than 10,000 allied airborne troops committed for ten days to this massive aerial invasion of the town of Arnhem in the Netherlands, fewer than 3,000 were able to make their way back to the safety of allied lines, with the remainder being killed or captured.

After the unparalleled and unexpectedly one-sided success of the D-Day invasion of Normandy, allied planners were convinced that their experience and expertise in aerial invasion could be used to leapfrog the plodding pace of traditional infantry ground maneuvers to take the fighting right to Germany’s Western doorstep. Planning began in July of 1944 as the allies started to drive the German Army from Normandy and central France.

U.S. General Dwight Eisenhower was in overall command of the European Theater of Operations, but Britain’s Field Marshall Montgomery was the allied commander of the forces that had come ashore in D-Day and its aftermath. Eisenhower was inclined to be cautious, preferring the steady land-based attack that had been employed from D+1, whereas “Monty” argued that a massive, unexpected aerial invasion behind German lines would instill panic and confusion among the German forces, while cutting their supply lines and communications, thereby permitting the allies to drive rapidly on to Berlin and effect a German surrender.

Eisenhower had not only the obligation to oversee the military aspects of the European campaign, he also had to ensure that the political realities of the Western Alliance were carefully considered as well. Monty was among the most capable field commanders in Europe and he was Britain’s foremost General, a true national hero. It is also true that Montgomery had an ego to match his fame and acclaim, and that he was inclined to plan brilliant “master strokes” rather than to employ traditional methods and strategies. Though he and Eisenhower differed fundamentally on the advisability of “Market Garden,” Eisenhower finally decided to compromise, approving Montgomery’s plan. Eisenhower reasoned that the capture of the Rhine Bridges that Montgomery envisioned for his quick stab into the heart of Germany would also prove useful for allied capture of Germany’s industrial heart in the Ruhr and Saar valleys.

The planning for D-Day had occupied more than a year, but Montgomery was so certain that the allies could leverage that experience that he allotted less than 7 weeks to plan and arrange the logistics of “Market Garden.” To many of the planners involved, it was clear that the time scale did not allow for the detailed “what-if” analyses that had been conducted during the planning for D-Day. It was also unclear whether or not the allies forces could provide all of the needed materiél and logistical support for a sustained operation. Operation Market Garden was notably lacking in contingency plans: it was entirely dependent upon a precise and unvarying time-table. But it was abundantly clear that the initial aerial invasion could be accomplished.

Despite the planning, Market Garden was a complete disaster. The time-table could not be followed. Key bridges remained in German hands, and the Germans responded in far greater force than the allied planners had projected. The troops who had parachuted behind German lines were cut off and surrounded. Indeed, far from everything going according to plan, it was very nearly true that nothing went according to plan. In the end, thousands were lost to no avail.

In retrospect, one overwhelming question has always stood out: why did the planners ignore the problems inherent in planning an invasion with little or no contingency planning? Why were the many manifest and evident problems not pointed out and explored? Why was a rush-job allowed? How was Market Garden given the go-ahead when its planning required that all details work as planned at all points?

Cornelius Ryan explored these questions in his classic account of Market Garden, A Bridge Too Far, (1974.) The reasons were many and varied as might be expected, but Ryan concludes that the most crucial failure in the entire planning process was the failure to consider “negative opinions.” The high-level planners were so intent that Market Garden be a smashing success that they did not want to take the time to listen to the possible problems and difficulties that might be present. In very short order, it became unacceptable to point out oversights and omissions, and those who tried to do so were asked to leave the planning team. Even minor, low-level staffers were pressured to omit any planning that considered the possibility of failure at any level.

Ryan’s analysis was emphasized by several business writers in the early 1970s, because it was a textbook case of “Group Think,” as it was dubbed by behavioralists William Whyte and Irving Janis. In “Group Think,” every member of a group is required, often unconsciously, to support the planned outcome without exception. When a group meets to devise a plan for which the desired outcome is the only acceptable vision, those who wish to offer differing opinions are shut out and labelled “negative” or worse. “Don’t nobody bring me no bad news …”

In 1977, Ryan’s book was made into an epic film of the same title. Sir Richard Attenborough’s masterful film is faithful to the book and is as fine a piece of historical film-making as one is likely ever to see. One will likely never see so many stars in one film again. With a huge cast that included a pantheon of Hollywood greats, and gargantuan special effects and recreations, the movie itself was an almost perfect case of “Group Think” as well. Though several market analyses indicated that the American public was not terribly interested in war films in the mid 1970s, the studio decided to forge ahead making what was at that time the single most expensive film to date.

It was a colossal disappointment for the studio financially, though it did receive well-deserved rave reviews. One post-mortem of the film dubbed it “A Movie Too Far.”

Operation Market Garden did not fail for lack of qualified, capable, and valorous troops: the men who fought in the operation were as brave and as skilled as any soldiers who fought in World War II. The failure was top-down. When the planners stopped listening to contrary opinions, or to possible problems, branding those who raised the issues as “negative,” or “not team players,” they failed the “team” as a whole. It would take more than valor, more than skill, for a plan such as Market Garden to have worked. It required perfection. And so the plan was doomed from the start, doomed by the mere fact that so many people so desperately wanted it to succeed.

The town of Arnhem was finally liberated on 15 April 1945, seven months after the first allied troops parachuted into “Market Garden.”

— Jamie Rawson
Flower Mound, Texas

If two men agree on everything, you may be sure that one of them is doing the thinking. — Lyndon Baines Johnson

A Hideous Reprisal

It was on this day, 9 June 1942, that Adolph Hitler ordered bloody reprisals against the Czechs as a response to the Czech anti-Nazi resistance. The very next day, 10 June 1942, Nazi troops utterly erased the 630 year old Czech village of Lidice from the face of the earth. Every man, woman, and child in the village was either killed, sent to a labor camp, or – for the very young children who were ajudged to have the right traits – sent to be “Arayanized” and incorporated into the Nazi’s “New World Order.” The entire village was looted and plundered, and burned to the ground or razed with heavy machinery. The task being undertaken with Nazi fervor, there was soon barely a trace of the village. Later the terrain was graded level and overplanted with grain. Lidice had truly been erased completely.

With a Teutonic obsession for record-keeping, the action was documented in detailed reports and expense ledgers. Additionally, and perhaps most astonishingly, a documentary film was made of the atrocity. It seems that the Nazis had not yet envisioned the possibility that they might someday be held accountable.

Lidice (pronounced LEE-dee-tseh in Czech and most commonly LIH-dih-chee in English) and its 340 inhabitants were obliterated in reprisal for the assassination of the Nazi administrator of the German-occupied Czech region, Reinhard Heydrich, a few day before. Czech resistance fighters – “terrorists,” according to the Nazi point of view – had ambushed Heydrich’s car and gravely wounded him. He died of an infection a few days later. The death of Heydrich so enraged Hitler that he demanded that Kurt Daluege, Heydrich’s successor, “wade through blood” to find the assassins. Daluege proceeded to do precisely that.

Though there were many reprisals throughout the Czech region, Lidice was singled out for complete destruction because it was known to be especially hostile to the German occupation, and it was thought to harbor resistance fighters. The Nazi High Command felt that such a total obliteration of a village would set an example and act as insurance for the good behavior of other Czech towns and villages. So confident were they in this strategy that they proudly and widely broadcast the news of the horrendous slaughter and inhuman enormity in the assurance that such a dreadful object lesson would deter future resistance activity. This calculation and conclusion are just the sort that tyrants routinely make.

Tyrants are rarely correct in such a judgment, though. Far from quelling resistance, horrors such as that perpetrated at Lidice often fire resolve among the complacent and spur more determined resistance.

Because the Nazis broadcast their atrocity, it was quickly known throughout the world. The allied powers immediately recognized the propaganda value of the destruction of Lidice: no one could now deny that Hitler’s Germany was brutal, barbaric, and beastly. Within days of the crime, Lidice became a household word throughout the world. Almost immediately towns and neighborhoods across the globe adopted the name of Lidice as their own: Lidice, Illinois; Lidice, Panama; Lidice, Brazil; the barrio of Lidice, Caracas, Venezuela; the barrio of Geronimo-Lidice, Mexico City; barrios in Lima, Peru; Regla, Cuba. Dozens of monuments and memorials were also created throughout the Americas, and, later, across Europe. Thousands of newborn girls were christened Lidice as well. Far from serving as a means of stifling resistance, the destruction of Lidice served to rally opponents of brutal totalitarianism around the globe.

Yet the Nazi grip on Europe would endure almost three more years after Lidice’s demise. Despite the world’s reaction to what happened at Lidice, and despite the fact that there was still a resistance movement in Czech region, the Nazi High Command still favored the tactic of disproportionate reprisal to try to intimidate resistance. Thus it was that an even greater carnage occurred exactly two years to the day after the eradication of Lidice.

On 10 June 1944, the French village of Oradour-sur-Glane was subjected to the same fate as Lidice. The men were rounded up into some large barns just outside the village and machine-gunned through the legs. Once so debilitated, the gravely wounded were covered with kindling and the barns set afire. The women and children had been gathered in the village church where explosives had been laid. After detonation, the few survivors were machine-gunned. In all, more than 640 people were slaughtered, and, as with Lidice, the town was razed.

These were not the only cases of such horror being perpetrated upon entire towns during the Nazi grip on Europe. Poland, Russia, the Ukraine, and elsewhere in Eastern Europe saw many others. But Lidice and Oradour are perhaps the most widely known. And, tragically, incomprehensibly, such atrocities are not a unique property of the Nazis. Other wars and other nations have seen recent examples of the same gruesome strategy, the same diabolical tactics, even though such actions not only fail to achieve the desired goal of halting resistance, they often increase resistance.

Much as one might wish that such uncivilized violence belong to past ages, it has not yet disappeared. Nations and cultures which surely should know better still yield to the urge to win by force that which they cannot win by persuasion. It is a melancholy reflection to note that while humans can wipe a Lidice or an Oradour from the face of the earth, humanity has not yet grown to a point where we can erase barbarity from the face of mankind.

Jamie Rawson
Flower Mound, Texas

Man’s inhumanity to man Makes countless thousands mourn.

— Burns

Executive Order 9066

In the aftermath of Imperial Japan’s surprise attack upon the U.S. Military at Pearl harbor, fear and uncertainty gripped the United States. Americans of Japanese heritage were suspected of divided loyalties or worse. On February 19, 1942, President Franklin Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066 enabling the Secretary of War to declare “Military Zones” and ultimately authorizing the internment of more than 100,000 Japanese-Americans in “War Relocation Centers.”

The internment of Japanese Americans potentially applied to anyone who had a Japanese great grandparent or closer heritage, so that citizens of Chinese-Japanese heritage were affected; Koreans were affected as well, since Japan had governed Korea for almost 40 years by the time of Pearl harbor. (It is notable that almost none of the more than half-million Chinese-Americans in the US during the war years were affected by this “relocation” effort. China was a U.S. ally in the war with Japan.) Was this internment order inspired by racism and bigotry? In large part, no doubt. Simple greed was a major factor as well, profiteering knowing no limits of race. Many of the Japanese-Americans who were subject to internment had to sell their homes and possession on very short notice and at greatly undervalued prices. As noted, the action was not applied to people simply because they were from East Asia. The Japanese were specifically targeted.

Of the ten internment camps that were established in 1942 and 1943 in support of the relocation effort, Manzanar in California’s Owens Valley is the most well-known. This is due to three factors: it was the first of the “War Relocation Centers” (WRCs) to be opened, in March of 1942; it was the largest, and it has been preserved as a National Historic Park.

One of the aspects of these camps that is worth calling to mind is that while they were truly “Concentration Camps” in the original sense of the word, they were not in the same category as the concentration camps in Nazi-occupied Europe which gave that term such an especially evil and murderous reputation. In fact, the American Jewish Committee at one time strenuously objected to the use of the term “Concentration Camp” to refer to the WRCs, as the WRCs were demonstrably far different from Nazi camps. The WRCs featured stores, schools, hospitals, recreation facilities of sorts, and libraries. These were not comfortable facilities, and no one would wish to be imprisoned even in a palace, but they were not intentionally physically brutalizing.

These camps were Spartan, to say the least. The accommodations were meager and only just barely adequate, being built of boards and tarpaper, and having minimal heating, no cooling. At a place such as Manzanar, in the high desert, the cold could be fierce and the heat intense. The facilities, though, were basically the same as the barracks used by members of the armed forced at the time, and so were not intentionally harsh. There were no “permanent” buildings at these camps. Some structures were placed upon concrete slabs, and a few had masonry foundations, but none were of brick. The guard towers were wood-frame construction in all the camps. Costs were kept low.

I had the moving experience of meeting a former inmate of Manzanar a few years ago in California when I attended a memorial service for Ruth Colburn, the mother of a College classmate. She had served as head librarian at Manzanar from 1942 through 1945. In that capacity, she made many deep and lasting friendships, and she earned the respect and affection of many of the camp’s inmates, as reflected in the fact that one of the “alumni” of Manzanar, a gentleman in his early 80s, remembered that she had been a gracious and kind presence in a difficult and stressful circumstance. He had been a teenager at Manzanar, and had evidently taken full advantage of the library that was provided.

Growing up in California, I had the chance to know a few people of Japanese heritage who had been sent to these “War Relocation Centers.” Frank Kamada, a nurseryman, had been interned at Camp Jerome in Arkansas. Frank recalled such things as being “deloused” by being showered in Malathion insecticide, and having to play baseball with ball of string wrapped in medical adhesive tape copped from first aid kits. Frank also remembered being allowed outside the camp to work for and with local farmers, and teaching the Arkansan farmers techniques of soil conservation and improvement which originated in Japan. Frank spoke of this time without apparent bitterness or regret. “We were at war,” he once observed. Note that use of “we.” Frank was Nisei, a 2nd generation Japanese descendant. He identified as American, as did his parents. But they were all interned.

When my folks owned a flower shop in the early 1970s, we did a great deal of business with vendors in the “Japanese Market.” Los Angeles’ wholesale flower market – in those days second only to Amsterdam’s – occupied two city blocks on either side of Wall Street in downtown LA. On the south side was the American Exchange, on the north was the Japanese Market. Many of the folks who owned concessions or worked in the market were Nisei or Sansei (3rd generation) who had been in the camps or had family who had been interned. Sada Miyahara (who anually on 17 March donned vibrant green and wore a green plaid tam on his head, would proclaim, “I’m Irish: Me O’Hara!”) had been at Tule Lake WRC. He recalled his time there frankly, but, again, without any grudge.

I was then and remain to this day struck by how little resentment or bitterness was expressed by these people to whom so great an injustice had been done. No doubt some small number of those imprisoned were loyal to the Emperor, but even these could hardly have constituted a meaningful threat to the U.S. But one must bear in mind that the shock of war was profound and dramatic, and that the suddenness of the surprise attack that brought us into it alarmed people in a way that even the 9/11 terrorist attacks did not. This does not excuse the internments, but it does help to explain them.

I would not aim to lessen the grim and oppressive aspect of these camps. Their very existence is a proof enough of oppression and discrimination. But as my brother observed, “I was appalled then (and am now) to think that US citizens could be treated that way but I was also struck by the complete lack of rancor evident when these folks told about their wartime experiences. I doubt I would be as calm in retelling such a tale. All the same, it seems, in a small way, more humane and civilized to know that those camps were provided with libraries and trained librarians. Somebody was thinking. How nice to know that Ruth Colburn was one of the people who made our internment camps something far less odious than what the Germans and Japanese had to offer the world at the time.”

Executive Order 9066 was officially rescinded by President Gerald Ford on 19 February 1976. Under President Jimmy Carter, a commission was established to fully investigate and evaluate the motive and the impact of Executive Order 9066. Eventually, reparation payments were made to living internees and the Federal Government formally apologized for the internment. While money and conciliatory words cannot truly redress an old wrong, remembering and reflecting may help us to avoid repeating the episode in some future time of fright and trepidation. Executive Order 9066 remains a part of our American past that must not be forgotten.

Jamie Rawson
Flower Mound, Texas

To do injustice is more disgraceful than to suffer it. — Plato

Sook Ching: Defeat And Horror

On 18 February 1942, in the wake of the surrender of the British miltary and subsequent collapse of British authority, the victorious Imperial Japanese forces began the imposition of Sook Ching, or a “cleansing purge” upon the Chinese population of Singapore.

Because the Singaporean Chinese community had given strong financial support to Chiang Kai-shek and the Kuomintang in the war against Japan, (there is a memorial to China’s first president, Sun Yat-sen, in Singapore) the Japanese occupation government determined that this support had to be eliminated forcefully. Accordingly, they began a screening process, rounding up any and all suspected of anti-Japanese sympathies. The number of people who were caught up in this purge are much disputed. The Japanese acknowledge that perhaps 6,000 people were killed; the Chinese community in Singapore believes it was 100,000. Most sources state a figure between 25,000 and 50,000. No matter the numbers, it was a huge devastation upon the Singapore Chinese, and it also resulted in many deaths among other ethnic groups as well, for anyone who had served in the colonial administration was suspect.

In addition, during the occupation, food was rationed in starvation portions. An adult could only purchase about 8 pounds of rice per month, and that at exorbitant prices. An unknown number of people died of malnutrition or starvation during the occupation. It is regarded as the darkest period in Singapore’s history, and many in Singapore consider that the movement for independence was born of the lessons learned during that time.

When the Japanese surrendered in 1945, Singapore was a shell of its former self, and its economy seemed permanently ruined. It would be years before it returned to pre-war levels. But in the 48years since Singapore’s independence, it has been one of “The Asian Tigers” with a vigorous, fast-growing, highly modernized economy, and one of the highest standards of living in Asia. But the war years are not forgotten: there is a striking monument to the victims of the occupation in downtown Singapore, and annual memorials are held on February 18 each year.

Monument Commemorating The Japanese Occupation of Singapore

Monument Commemorating The Japanese Occupation of Singapore

Jamie Rawson
Flower Mound, Texas

The Dawn Of The Nuclear Age

On this day in 1942, underneath the bleachers of the unused Stagg Field at the University of Chicago, Enrico Fermi produced the first man-made nuclear chain reaction. The crucial hurdle to making use of the potential of nuclear power had been leapt.

Fermi had received the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1938. Though Mussolini’s fascist government had forbidden Fermi to leave the country, he was granted a special exit visa so that he could attend the prize ceremony in Stockholm for the glory of Italy.

Fermi took advantage of the trip to defect to the United States. He was not merely opposed to the fascist ideology, he had a more pressing, personal concern: his wife was Jewish, and Hitler’s Germany had been pressing Italy to address its “Jewish Problem.”

The institutionalized intolerance and oppressive actions of the fascist regimes in Italy and Germany cost both countries many of their best and brightest scientists. The flight of these scientists to the freedom of America permitted the United States to develop the first nuclear weapons. And though such awful weapons be loathesome, surely it would have been a ghastly world in which Hitler developed nuclear weapons first.

Dogmatic oppression weakens even powerful, militaristic regimes; Freedom truly is strength.

Jamie Rawson
Flower Mound, Texas