D Day. Honoring the Longest Day

Flag - Ft. DeSoto Park Entrance

June 6, 1944. D-Day. I was 13 years old. I followed the war intensely in those days, watching every newsreel, reading every 15-cent issue of Life Magazine I could get my hands on. Bobby Longtine was our first neighborhood casualty, in the Pacific theater of operations. I will never forget when I saw the Gold Star hung in his parent’s window.

We had our heroes as well as our casualties. Dick Bong, America’s leading ace, who shot down 40 Jap planes, was from Poplar, Wisconsin, a few miles way. I remember our excitement when he married Marge Vattendahl, the sister of one of my good East High classmates, and how he thrilled us all when he brought his P-38, named “Marge,” to our hometown, Superior Wisconsin, and flew it Chinese style – one wing low – down our main street. He received the Medal of Honor from General MacArthur. He was sent “home for good” in January 1945, promoted the sale of war bonds, and died test-flying one of the new fangled Lockheed jets on August 6, 1945, the day we bombed Hiroshima. To this day I cherish a picture of Dick Bong and his P-38, and his autographed dollar bill, birthday gifts from my sister, Cathy. During the 1964 elections, I was active in Goldwater’s presidential campaign. Barry Goldwater had been one of Bong’s flight instructors.

I can’t remember anyone, old or young, who lived through those days that objected to any sacrifice we had to make at home. From gas rationing to food stamps, from long hours at the factories and shipyards to knitting socks and scarves for our troops, folks at home simply pitched in. We were proud Americans one and all. We believed the war was the war to end all wars. And after the war, our Marshall Plan pretty much became the savior of the world, putting a lot of destitute nations on the mend.

But the war wasn’t the war to end all wars. Memories are short and quickly dim. I was at the University of Wisconsin when the Korean War got in full swing in 1950. Several of my high school buddies got trapped on the Chosin Reservoir when the Chinese intervened. They brought home tough stories. I was lucky, my 2 year stint in service started as the war wound down.

In 1971, during the Vietnam War, anthropologists Louis Leakey and Robert Ardrey lectured at the Leakey Foundation about “Aggression and Violence in Man.” During their discussions Ardrey said, “After our experience in Vietnam I would hope Americans would learn that [a war] of intrusion is not a rewarding way of life.” There were some pretty active Vietnam protests back then, and there was Peter, Paul and Mary and their soulful Where Have All the Flowers Gone. But we didn’t learn. Our recent wars of “intrusion” in Iraq and Afghanistan occupy a hefty portion of our national budget, kill our young men and women and cause a lot of “collateral damage,” as we are being encouraged to accept. But today’s wars of intrusion draw fewer protestors, probably because our soldiers are not conscripts and because we are not asked to sacrifice back home as we were in WWII.

If we travel around our globe in this our tenth year of the 21st Century, from Mexico through the Middle East to Indonesia, and elsewhere, any close look at human conduct can be pretty discouraging. Why can’t we stop our penchant to solve our problems with war and violence? Was Raymond Dart (who discovered Australopithecus africanus in 1924) right in the 1950s when he developed the theory that interpersonal aggression was the driving force behind human evolution, explained in his The Predatory Transition from Ape to Man? Is there No End to War as Walter Laqueur wrote in his 2003 work? Has man always fought, as Steven LeBlanc concludes in his Constant Battles? Was Konrad Lorenz right about man’s instincts of aggression against his fellow man in his On Aggression? Was Geoffrey Perret right in his Country Made by War that war is what has made America great?

Ft. DeSoto

Or was Rousseau‘s romantic view right – do we come from the stock of “Noble Savages,” peaceful species who lived a life worthy of our reconsideration? Or, is Rousseau’s idea akin to Plato’s “Noble Lie”?

As I pondered these thoughts, I returned to the 1971 Aggression and Violence in Man Leakey Foundation lecture of Robert Ardrey and Louis Leakey. Ardrey was of the view our killer instinct evolved over one or two million years, from our early experiences as a hunter, and was a necessary trait for survival. Louis Leakey (somewhat supported in the 1981 book of his son, Richard) disagreed and attributed our penchant for aggression to man‘s societal development, beginning as communities of cave dwellers, where he gained his control over fire, and speech and socialization evolved, products of the last 40,000 years or so. Leakey said, “(W)ith the arrival of real speech, although it has done a great many beautiful things, at the same time it has done certain awfully bad things, because it gave us time and leisure to invent ideas and some of those ideas, I am afraid, were the causes of our aggression.“ (For reasons we are not apt to know, Richard Leaky ignored Jane Goodall, his father’s protégé. Her 1973 study of Chimpanzees confirmed Audrey’s conclusions. She wrote, “The chimpanzee has clearly reached a stage where he stands at the very threshold of human achievement in destruction, cruelty and planned conflict.”)

Among Audrey’s and Louis Leakey’s conclusions is that man has been aggressively “territorial.” Individual man and societies of men value territory, seek territory, and defend territory. Territory is a prime source of human conflict. Ludwig von Mises, in Socialism, his 1932 defense of capitalism, wrote “All ownership derives from occupation and violence. … It is no accident that it is precisely in the defense of property that Law reveals most clearly its character of peacemaker.” From my view, the ideas of Oregon’s professor, John Bellamy Foster, that in time “private property ownership of particular individuals in the earth will appear just as absurd as the private property of one man in other men” will never gain traction. No private ownership of property? I doubt it. Territory and property rights are in our blood. (The importance of “territory” and evidence that Chimps, like man, fight and kill for territory, was the subject of a June 2010 article in Current Biology, “Lethal intergroup aggression leads to territorial expansion in wild chimpanzees.”)

As Ardrey and Leaky neared the end of their talk, Ardrey observed, “Evolution makes difficult to learn that which is not survival value. … It is easy to learn to kill to hunt. And now we have to unlearn to kill and it is difficult.” Leakey agreed, adding, “(E)ither we will be destroyed … or we are going to save the world for our future generations – for our children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren. One way or the other. And I think we have to do it now. That is the lesson from our study of the past.”

Leakey advised in the “Q & A“ following the lectures that to live peacefully and overcome our propensity for aggression, people of all backgrounds must intermingle, mix, and become truly global until mankind realizes “they are all one and the same. … You can’t really kill people if you have a real feeling that they also have a faith and are meaningful. … Because of the destructive influences of dogmas and doctrines as distinct from faith, we are letting young people lose faith when they don’t have to lose. And having lost faith … they are not willing to abandon violence. If you believe that the person is something worthwhile, you don’t stuff him out.”

Jared Diamond concludes similarly in his The Third Chimpanzee, “When I try to think of reasons why nuclear weapons won’t inexorably combine with our genocidal tendencies to break the records we’ve already set for genocide in the first half of the twentieth century, our accelerating homogenization is one of the chief grounds for hope.”

So how do we Honor our “Longest Day”? We squelch our aggressive instincts, we work at becoming global in our understanding others, and above all we become reverent for life and for peace. For me, 1954 Nobel prize winner Albert Schweitzer said it best:

A man is ethical only when life, as such, is sacred to him, that of plants and animals as that of his fellow men, and when he devotes himself helpfully to all life that is in need of help. As soon as man does not take his existence for granted, but beholds it as something unfathomably mysterious, thought begins. By having a reverence for life, we enter into a spiritual relation with the world. By practicing reverence for life we become good, deep, and alive. By respect for life we become religious in a way that is elementary, profound and alive. I can do no other than be reverent before everything that is called life. I can do no other than to have compassion for all that is called life. That is the beginning and the foundation of all ethics. The man who has become a thinking being feels a compulsion to give every will-to-live the same reverence for life that he gives to his own. He experiences that other life in his own.

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10 Comments on "D Day. Honoring the Longest Day"

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All big things in this world are done by people who are naive and have an idea that is obviously impossible. – Charles Hamilton

Interesting thoughts here. I appreciate you taking the time to share them with us all. It’s people like you that make my day

Helpful write up, saved the blog for interest to see more!

I truly loved this brilliant article. Please continue this awesome work. Regards, Duyq.

Again.. you hit like some crazy gorrilla the nail with your big hammer on top with your awesome post

I wasn’t aware of some of the info that you wrote about so I want to just say thank you.

Very educating write up, bookmarked the website for hopes to read more!

A wonderful piece, Dick. Life is always about choices and we can easily choose peace over war, as naive as that may sound. Any theory beyond that is a cop out on the part of the human race.

These thoughts and beliefs are mine. The question is, how do we enculcate them into the minds of ALL children
in this infinitely diverse and flawed world. I am saddend that there is no viable solution.

Why not Peace? Why not let our psycologists make more decisions than our generals? Besides America growing weaker by the day; my biggest fear is that we are overpopulating the Planet. If I read history correctly, at any level of population, “The pasture has always appeared greener on the other side.” The American indians did not own the land; yet many tribes marauded against the peaceful. Between the Great Wars; the German people were lulled into a joyful, albeit brief sense of peace by the meniacal greed of one. Even the prophecy of the “Lamb laying down with the lion”… Read more »