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A conference, Overlord Echoes, held at Liberty University featured both scholars and D-Day veterans. The veterans told about what they personally saw and experienced. The scholars gave the larger picture.
One of the keynote speakers was Dr. Gerhard Weinberg, currently the William Rand Kenan, Jr. Professor Emeritus of History at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He’s been on the faculty there since 1974 and is a nationally-noted historian of World War II. He is the author of a 1,000-page, one-volume history of the war, “A World at Arms: A Global History of World War II.”
Dr. Weinberg is originally from Hanover, Germany. He notes that Virginia was once ruled by members of Hanover’s ruling family. King George I, was Elector of Hanover, a principality of the Holy Roman Empire, before becoming King of England.
Weinberg’s family was able to leave Germany for England in 1938. Born on New Year’s Day, 1928, Weinberg was a boy when World War II started. He said that, considering the fact that he would become a World War II historian, it was rather thoughtful of them to begin the Blitz while he was a schoolboy living in London.
The family came to the United States. Weinberg became a U. S. citizen and was drafted in 1946, serving in the American occupation army in Japan. His tour of duty was short. Weinberg said that the Army decided to discharge all draftees in 1947, choosing to stick those who had enlisted. The Army wouldn’t resume drafting until the Korean War broke out.
Weinberg earned his Ph.D. in history from the University of Chicago in 1951, at the age of 23.
In his keynote address, he said that there was no disagreement among U. S. leadership. The terrain in Northern France was suitable for a thrust into Central Europe and having American troops in the heart of Europe was necessary if the United States expected to play a role in the post-war settlement.
The experience of World War I was also important. An armistice ended that war before Germany was invaded. President Franklin Roosevelt felt that only a massive assault on the shortest route into Germany could keep the world from having to fight the Germans a third time.
Dr. Weinberg said that Hitler actually wanted his enemies to do it. It’s not that he wanted to be invaded. Hitler felt that territory could be lost in the east, but a successful invasion from the west would threaten Germany’s most important industrial area.
However, if the Germans could destroy the invasion force, or drive it back across the English Channel, we wouldn’t be able to try it again for another year. This would free up massive forces to fight in the east and Hitler still thought he could defeat the Soviet Union. For Hitler, the sooner we invaded, the better.
What if it had failed?
Dr. Weinberg said that Germany could have then moved between 30 and 40 divisions to the east, but this would have only slowed, not stopped, Soviet troops. The war would have ended with the Red Army occupying all of Germany, Denmark and, probably the Netherlands. Furthermore, Germany, rather than Japan, would have gotten bombed with the first atomic bombs.
An Allied failure on D-Day would have also slowed down the war in the Pacific due to the need to divert troops from that theater. The war, there, would have ended with Soviet troops occupying the Japan’s northern home island.
According to Dr. Weinberg, the Allied success on D-Day shaped the second half of the 20th century. It not only set up Nazi Germany for defeat, but also led to Western victory in the Cold War.
Dr. Weinberg believes that the Nazis’ racism is what defeated them. It led them to underestimate their opponents. Hitler thought that America would just fall apart under the pressure of war because we are a mixed people.
Hitler also felt the Soviet Union would be a pushover. Germany had defeated Russia during World War I with most of its army on the western, rather than eastern, front. Furthermore, Russia during WWI was lead by, in Hitler’s view, a superior Germanic leadership. The Bolshevik Revolution eliminated that leadership. Hitler saw the Russians as inferior people led by incompetents.