June 6: Where From Here?

It’s June 6, 2020. Peaceful protests, intense rioting, political bickering, Civil War topics suddenly trending on Twitter, looming COVID-19, personal solitude. That pretty much sums up the last week. Hardly a good time to be back-publishing my semi-frivolous “plague journal” from the last twelve weeks, I thought. So it sits a little longer. Best-laid plans are getting altered on a daily, sometimes hourly basis, as I try to navigate for three different organizations in the history field. In this time when listening and sincere attempts to understand others’ views and positions are desperately needed, should I be “soapboxing” about history?

I started praying about it when I work up this morning. This had been the week to re-launch the blog and celebrate Gazette665’s Sixth Birthday! Did that even matter now? I thought, feeling discouraged.

And then, I remembered, this image from 76 years ago:

On the eve of D-Day (June 6, 1944), General Dwight D. Eisenhower, Supreme Commander of Allied Forces in Europe, left headquarters. He went and talked to troops getting ready to plunge into Normandy and preparing to take back a continent from Nazi occupation. It’s one of the great moments of history and a stunningly powerful image of good leadership.

In that moment, Eisenhower could not see the troops as numbers on the pages. He stood face to face with those paratroopers and asked them about their lives, their hometowns, their hopes, their dreams. He learned their stories. He opened a dialog.

The official orders for June 6, 1944, began:

Soldiers, Sailors, and Airmen of the Allied Expeditionary Force!

You are about to embark upon the Great Crusade, toward which we have striven these many months. The eyes of the world are upon you. The hope and prayers of liberty-loving people everywhere march with you.

General Eisenhower

(Check out the recording broadcast of the complete orders here)

“The eyes of the world are upon you.” That quote always gives me chills. The thought of what the soldiers, sailors, and airmen set out to accomplish and how they battled their way ashore and inland.

I do not want to take the historic quote out of the context. I don’t want to compare it to these current times. I just want to pull the sentiment: people are watching. Even in our small circles of family, friends, and acquaintances, we are being watched. Always have been, always will. But I think it feels a bit more like a fish bowl these days.

Since mid-week, I’ve felt burdened about how help with history. How to create or point to resources. How to answer questions that are coming in from extended family about history, monuments, etc. How to respond with cite-able facts, but in an understanding way. (I have a tendency to unload information like a ton of bricks which is not helpful to anyone.)

Last night, I cried on the phone, my voice cracking as I made a speech at my mother, begging for a way to share history meaningfully, kindly. In a way that can educate and ask questions.

People are watching, I thought this morning, as I read the 1944 orders of the day. I thought about Eisenhower on June 5. Have a dialogue, I thought as I took a battlefield drive. A dialogue is not and does not need to permit a shouting-match or an insult festival. A dialogue is a conversation.

We need to talk. We need to talk about history. We need to talk about people. We need to talk about what’s going on.

If you’ve known me for any length of time or if you’ve hung around the blog, you already know I don’t chat about modern politics in public. And that includes the blog and social media. That’s not going to change. But, we need to continue conversing about history—especially from the primary sources and looking at those in context. We need to talk about the history of memory and how that affects our perception of the facts of the past.

So, I guess this is just a full circle moment or a confirmation that Gazette665 needs to press forward. The blog is growing up. I am growing up. I want cited articles on the blog. I want more personal dialog. More serious history. A good balance, you know.

The eyes of the world are watching. Even if it’s just our circles of families and friends. I feel compelled to find ways to bring accurate history to the Thanksgiving Table (proverbially, of course) while coming with kindness and understanding of perspectives that are held about the past, why those ideas are clung to, and how to help others see if their beliefs and memory of the past are actually shaped by the historical facts or if we need to take a second look to understand our own times a little better.

So…here we go, Gazette665. Happy Sixth Birthday! You’re going into first grade, darling blog, and things are going to get serious. We’ll still have plenty of fun. But it’s time to put aside the toddler talk and start talking about history is a deeper way.

It seems like every plan has changed this year, but if Providence wills it, here’s the moving forward plan to start getting some resources flowing again with regularity:

  • 1865: In Their Words – Mondays and Fridays in June. Let’s do a crash course in primary sources from the final months of the Civil War and the first days of Reconstruction. I want to finish out the “In Their Words” Series and perhaps it will be some timely discussion starters.
  • Learning To Wander – Wednesdays. I’m going to keep it lighter and more personal, but will work on providing some “food for thought” and relevant resources through the summer.

In closing, here are Eisenhower’s send-off words for June 6, 1944:

Good luck! And let us beseech the blessing of Almighty God upon this great and noble undertaking.

Your Historian,

Miss Sarah

P.S. How are you doing this week? Have you found some helpful historical insights or resources?

6 comments

  1. When we are told that growing up is the hardest thing you will ever do, no one was kidding. And, from the vantage point of this geezer, it never stops. In the context of professional football last night, a news anchor posed the question he suggested we all ask ourselves: What if I am wrong? No matter which side one might fall out on, the answer is supposed to be, I think, that if I am wrong, how can I justify my actions? I am becoming more & more convinced that teaching school was worthless. We saluted the flag, we learned logic skills and read cool stuff. We did a lot of history when I taught 5th grade, but no matter the topic, I tried to teach compassion and respect every day. We all did. Now this. I hate to think that the best I can say for myself is that I tried really hard to do good work and be kind. I am not sure that is much of a legacy any more.

    • Dear Meg, don’t give up! I know there are some wonderful young people who you influenced for good in your years of teaching with compassion and respect. And I have appreciated that you “check” on me to make sure I’m still reading and thinking in these long days alone.

  2. I finished writing a novel based during the Prohibition this past week, so I’ve been spending all my free time catching up on some Civil War Facebook livestreams from Tattooed Historian, National Museum of Civil War Medicine, and the Historians on Tap pages. I learned a lot, but more importantly, I was given a new blog to follow, “Irish in the American Civil War” by Damian Shiels, and a new site to find letters from soldiers called “Private Voices”. I also bought a few books that were recommended during the presentations and will be impatiently waiting for them in the mail. I still have a lot to catch up on. My heart and best wishes go out to you. Hang in there! You’re making a difference 🙂

    • Thanks for sharing what you’ve been working on! “Irish in the American Civil War” is a fantastic blog. I’ll have check out “Private Voices.”
      Happy reading when those new books arrive. Take care. 🙂

  3. Great and timely post. The key concept that you have identified I believe is critical, and that is having dialog and conversation. Show me the person in the world right now that can claim expertise in global pandemics, enacting social change, identifying the intersection of the past with the present, stabilizing financial markets, resolving political disputes, and on in the many relevant topics of today. That person of course does not exist. However, consider the results of a dialog between two sides that believe their point of view is the only possible correct point of view, versus a dialog between two sides that maintain an open mind and are willing to listen. Only when we are willing to truly have a dialog can real change and real learning occur. Socrates wrote, “The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing.”, a quote which seems particularly relevant in the current time.

    Looking forward to the new posting ideas, and happy sixth Blog-aversary.

    • Thank you! I’ve been enjoying digging through some 1865 primary sources and look forward to sharing a variety of military, social, and political excerpts over the next few weeks. Definitely a lot of good “food for thought.”

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