In Case of Failure (First posted Feb, 2006)

It was the eve of D-Day when the Allied troops would fly and sail across the channel to invade at a location the Germans were least expecting: Normandy, France. For two years generals had been planning, and now 2,000,000 soldiers were massed in southern England, poised for just the right moment to enter France and begin to push back the Germans. The weather was foul, but because of the moon and tides, this would be the best shot for at least a month. Still, General Eisenhower, Supreme Commander of the Allied troops did not know if the invasion would be a success or a horrific failure. And so he scrawled out this note as a press release to be used “in case of failure.”

Eisenhower's "failure" note, found weeks later by his aides

Our landings in the Cherbourg-Havre area have failed to gain a satisfactory foothold and I have withdrawn the troops. My decision to attack at this time and place was based upon the best information available. The troops, air and navy did all that bravery and devotion to duty could do. If any blame or fault attaches to the attempt, it is mine alone.  

Thankfully Gen. Eisenhower did not need to issue this as the invasion was a brilliant, though costly, success.

I’ve just finished reading The Longest Day, by Cornelius Ryan, a book which kept me up late at nights, spellbound by the bravery of the men who fought in WW II. No, war books are not normally an interest for me at all, but I wanted to bone up on this era of history before teaching it in a few weeks. I highly recommend this 50 year old book which was based on hundreds of interviews with American, British, Canadian, French and German survivors of that momentous day which marked the beginning of the end of the war.

So many things impressed me in this book. It tells of the 18,000 men who parachuted into France, often landing miles off target or in flooded swamplands or even on church steeples, of the glider trains (planes), of the thousands who landed on the beaches loaded with mines and other booby traps, knowing that death was a very likely outcome, and of the men and women of the French underground. What has happened to men and women since then? Surely they were of stouter fabric than we are today. One of the reasons we study history and teach it to our children is to be inspired to bravery by the actions of our forefathers.

Eisenhower’s words, too, impacted me. In the actual press release that went out, telling of the mission’s achievements, he did not take credit, though if it had failed he was prepared to take the personal blame. According to Doug Wilson, in Future Men, this is a mark of a true man: he is willing to accept responsibility when things go wrong without making excuses. As parents it is essential that we teach out children, boys and girls as well,  to own the responsibility for their actions. We must not let them give us excuses for what they should have done. And even worse, we must not make excuses for them.

Blame-shifting goes back to Eden when Adam blamed “the woman whom You gave to be with me” and Eve blamed the serpent. I see it in myself regularly. Something goes wrong, and too often my response is not to take personal responsibility but to look around and see if there is someone else handy. My children do it too. Here’s a nearly trivial example, but the kind that happens all the time. Last night we were going through the bedtime routine. I asked Paul, 5, who normally takes care of this himself, if he had brushed his teeth, and he responded that he had not.

“Why not?” I asked.

“Because you didn’t help me!” (Now, note that he does this himself 95% of the time, and he had not asked for help. Instead he had been playing.) But by saying that, suddenly it was not his fault but mine that his teeth were unbrushed. Well, this of course, provided an excellent opportunity to explain to Paul, while I brushed his teeth, why making excuses is unacceptable, and that the correct answer to my query would have been, “I have no excuse, Mom.”

I’m looking forward to our study of World War II in a few weeks. My boys especially will profit by looking at the actions of courage by men who were willing to risk their lives, men who were willing to live and die with honor. They will remember their Great- Uncle Rubert, who was killed in France not long after D-Day. And as we study D-Day, I will read to them General Eisenhower’s words that he did not ever need to send.

“Boys must learnt to say, regularly – to God, to others, and to themselves – that they were wrong when they were wrong, and that they were responsible when they were responsible. When they do this, they will discover that authority naturally flows to those who take responsibility. That same authority naturally flees from those who seek to shift the responsibility or the blame. When boys learn to do this, they are learning what it means to be a young man. When young men do this, they are learning what it means to be a grown man.” - Future Men

Feb. 2006

Update: Having just read The Longest Day again, this time to my youngest sons, now ages 9 and 12, I still give this book a hearty recommendation. However, as an adult war book, it contains earthy language and sometimes graphic descriptions. Reading aloud allows a parent to edit on the fly as appropriate for the age of the listeners.

This time through I was again impressed with Einsenhower's readiness to assume responsibility if the invasion failed. How stark a contrast to today's political leaders who seem only too quick to find someone else to blame! Teaching our children to own up to their wrongs as we arbitrate disputes or deal with disobedience is a good place to start in training men of honor.   (May 21,2013)


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