When Allied forces launched a dramatic air and sea assault on German-occupied France 75 years ago Thursday, the very scale and audacity of the operation were awe-inspiring. In the early-morning hours of June 6, hordes of planes dropped over 10,000 paratroopers behind enemy lines; hundreds of warships and thousands more landing craft would soon deliver 130,000 troops to the beaches of Normandy—most of them British or American—on the first day of the assault.
It was a remarkable achievement—and one of the reasons why, so many years later, Americans in a divided country now think of THE WORLD WAR II years as a beacon of feel-good unity and patriotism: Glenn Miller tunes on the radio, war bond posters in every window, Rosie the Riveter at her station “all the day long whether rain or shine, she’s a part of the assembly line.”
That image, however—the war as a moment of American domestic comity—might come as a surprise to anyone who lived through those years. In fact, the nation that waged that war was racked by deep political divisions, some with echoes that are still reverberating today.