Way Too Big to Fail: Lessons from Normandy


On this D-Day anniversary, it’s time we look beyond the sheer bravery of those involved back then, and consider the logistical lessons that I hope register now.

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The Normandy invasion was a coordinated effort of massive proportions not only involving countries but their land and naval forces acting in unique tandem. That feature alone is remarkable, and 70 years later, a testament to what not only a nation’s government can do, but what it can do in concert with others.

As U.S. European Command Historian Dan Patrick wrote of this combined massive wartime assembly, the lesson is unquestionable: “The additional perspective and personnel invariably makes us stronger together.”

Think back to just how huge an undertaking D-Day was. Not only were all branches of our military working in concert – and secret concert – they were doing so on an international size and scale, the likes of which had never been seen in human history.

Multi-service, multi-country efforts involving air, land and naval forces worked with clock-like precision at testing points and ports around the globe. This would be the first time the Army Engineers and Navy Construction Battalions would work in sync on something so big, and involving so many. In the months leading up to Normandy, it was all about getting ready for Normandy, even though back then allied commander Dwight Eisenhower wasn’t sure it would be Normandy (weather, and possible shifts in German positions, necessitated looking at a variety of other invasion points).

Regardless, the idea was to be logistically ready. Army and Navy groups would work together building the Mulberry Harbor that would later act as a ferrying point for supplies and personnel – and by the way, we’re talking hundreds of thousands of personnel here.

Patrick writes that even after the “man-made” harbor was partly destroyed in a June 12th storm a year before the invasion, allied forces representing all branches of each participating country’s military, worked day and night to “land hundreds of thousands of tons of war material daily,” oftentimes under intense enemy fire.

The line of command was clear, and the ruffled egos were remarkably few. That’s not to say there wasn’t a good deal of second-guessing; Winston Churchill himself famously questioned the timing of the invasion. But whatever differences there might have been, even Churchill seemed to keep to himself.

There was an underlying trust in the mission, the overall goal of the mission, and a one-for-all, all-for-one mentality to the mission and for the mission. Think of it as selflessness on a massive, global scale! Also remember that by this time, private industry was working in concert with the government to provide the materials and means for any large-scale attack. Major automakers and steelmakers had long retrofitted their factories to tank, plane, and other military weaponry assembly.

Key deadlines were met and policed under enormous pressure. Thousands volunteered to make sure that would happen, and whole “building brigades” were established with weekly performance updates ferreted to top military commanders sharing the progress with their allied counterparts around the world.

This was the original Homeland Security, only with lots of homelands coordinating their collective security! Long before 9-11, there was the focus and preparation for “6-6,” June 6, 1944, and the massive offensive that its participants hoped would finish the second great World War once and for all.

Seventy years later, D-Day stands as a stunning example of what government can do when focused, and driven by and for a purpose. All the more remarkable, is what it showed when governments share that purpose with other governments – similarly driven, and similarly motivated.

That’s not to say I’m a proponent of big government, I’m just not a proponent of excuses from big government. I have sort of a tin ear to the pathetic blame game out of the Veterans Administration over its shabby bureaucratic treatment of our soldiers – that its responsibilities are too unwieldy and unrealistic. Somehow I don’t think the people for whom they’re supposed to be caring reacted the same way to their responsibilities and to their mission.

The same goes for a Health and Human Services department that keeps botching big and little things on healthcare. Once assigned a task, it should have taken a cue from history and been ready for the task. It wasn’t. They weren’t. We aren’t.

We could do worse than look back 70 years ago to the examples the Greatest Generation set. Back then, they put egos and departments aside, for a mission that was greater than themselves. That was a time when the word “NO” was not an option, and “CAN’T” was not a consideration.

Seventy years ago free governments were committed to doing something that seemed too big to succeed. I suspect they wouldn’t even know the meaning of the alternative today…too big to fail.

Not an option or an excuse back then. So why are we so freely using it as an excuse for one bureaucratic disaster after another now?

What do you think?

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