Wednesday, June 4, 2014


Seventy years ago this Sunday, General Eisenhower announced that Allied forces had successfully landed on the shores of Normandy. It became known as D-Day. Some of you, I think, have memories of that event. With it, the final push to defeat Nazi Germany began in full. Somewhere around 4,500 Allied forces died in the assault. Estimates for Germans losses range between 4,000 and 9,000. The day was as brutal as it was important.

Recently, I heard a story about the event that I’ve heard before, but it gets me every time. Apparently, General Eisenhower penned a communique for release in the event the attempted landing failed. Two features of that note, scribbled in pencil and stuffed into his pocket, are worth remembering. The first is an underline. He planned to say that the soldiers couldn’t gain a toehold in the landing area, so he withdrew the men, and ended with, “If any blame or fault attaches to the attempt- it is mine alone.” He underlined, “Mine alone,” knowing full well that he wasn’t the only person involved in the planning. He’d spent months, years even, in fractious meetings with multiple countries’ military personnel, politicians, and strategists. Ultimately, the plan was approved by many, leaving to him only the exact date the landing would commence. Weather appeared uncooperative, though, until June 5, when a break in storms seemed possible. It was either go the next day or wait another two weeks. Eisenhower decided to strike.

It’s good he did. The alternative date saw the worst storms of the summer, which would’ve rendered the English Channel crossing impossible. Nevertheless, he knew that victory wasn’t inevitable, and planned what to say if the worst did come. And rather than seek cover or others to share the blame, he underlined his responsibility. “Mine alone,” he emphasized, hoping- I’m sure- the need would never arise.

The second feature of note in that letter augments that decision. He’d originally written the second sentence as, “This particular operation at this time and place was based upon the best information available.” He subsequently crossed that out and began with, “My decision to attack at this time…” Again, the change was from distancing himself from potential negative attention to putting himself in fuller responsibility.

I can’t imagine the burden the general carried on the night he made that decision. The thousands of families whose lives would be forever changed. The hopes of nations teetering on edge. Leadership of whatever variety- in the military, of course, but so too in our churches, communities, families- requires a clear enough mind to understand a situation’s stakes, and a sturdy enough spine to shoulder the costs.

But so too does leadership require a courageous, empathetic and wise heart. I suspect that’s a critical ingredient in Eisenhower’s willingness to face the music should it have all gone wrong. The devastating guilt and loss, shame and terror that would’ve washed over his soldiers and his nation could’ve paralyzed people, unhinged countless spirits, further set back the cause for which they fought. In that tempestuous fervor, should he have deflected blame, cast dispersion across the waters, there would’ve been no holding tank for the fear that would arise, no focus or outlet for their grief. I’m glad we don’t know whether this letter, in fact, would have served as a needed pressure valve, an act of sacrificial leadership. But I suspect it would have, and am impressed by the emotional intelligence and fortitude those simple edits reveal.

Which is to say, when you think about how best to help your children, serve your church, better your community, I hope you ponder the needs and challenges within your hearts as much as your minds. There are programs to plan or strategies to adopt, surely, but so too are there fears to calm and dreams to uplift. Success will only come when you’re as attentive to those concerns as you are to resources and ideas. And just as critical, when it comes time to decide, don’t wallow in worry or look always to others. Be responsible, trusting in the One who made you to sustain you, and guide whatever may be.

Grace and Peace,

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