Edward Staite is an international communications consultant and campaign adviser.
On the fortieth anniversary of D-Day, Ronald Reagan stood and addressed US veterans at Pointe du Hoc in Normandy.
Pointe du Hoc is one of the legendary moments of 6th June 1944 when many thousands of ordinary men did some extraordinary things. At Pointe du Hoc, 225 men of the US Rangers stormed ashore in the dawn light before climbing sheer cliffs to secure German guns which threatened the invasion beaches to the East.
President Reagan delivered a number of memorable speeches during his two terms, but for me ‘The Boys of Pointe du Hoc” is his best. It is beautifully written, and was just as carefully delivered – perhaps because Reagan knew the western alliance – NATO – needed to be reminded of all it had achieved when we had stood up to tyranny and for democracy.
The full text of Reagan’s speech can be read here. In it there is lovely lyricism but, as with any great speech, he is ultimately making a substantive argument.
This was one of Reagan’s attributes often overlook by his critics. Yes, he was a compelling and avid storyteller with a real caring human touch. But what many missed was that the twinkle in his eye belied the steel in his belly. Behind every anecdote was a point of substance.
Reagan talked about loyalty and love, but also about what was worth fighting for. His words, addressed directly to the ranks of veterans sat in front of him, but also to the watching world, ring as true today as they did then and as they did 70 years ago:
“You all knew that some things are worth dying for. One’s country is worth dying for, and democracy is worth dying for, because it’s the most deeply honorable form of government ever devised by man. All of you loved liberty. All of you were willing to fight tyranny.”
As well as the US Rangers, Reagan made sure he talked of the valour and sacrifice of the other Allies involved in operations on D-Day. The context of Reagan’s speech were disagreements in NATO, the deployment of a new generation of rockets aimed at European capitals by the Soviet Union and an unwillingness to issue sanctions after a Soviet crackdown on Poland.
Today, the Western Allies have struggled when major foreign policy challenges have emerged – not least how to deal with Vladimir Putin’s Russia. From Libya to Syria to Ukraine, Putin has shown himself to be as opposed to democracy and liberty as he is the West.
The leaders and heads of state of the nations which made up the Allies in 1944 will gather on the beaches of Normandy as they did in 1984. This is an opportunity which should not be missed. It is one to be seized with with all the purpose and desire showed by those who stormed ashore into “gunfire like raindrops” 70 years ago.
As Peggy Noonan, who wrote the ‘Boys of Pointe du Hoc’ speech for Reagan says: “great speeches are great because they say great things”. So who will make a great speech on the Normandy beaches to mark this 70th anniversary?
As President Putin of Russia joins the other Allies of 1944 in Normandy will someone step forward with courage, and use the D-Day commemorations to reiterate the western call for freedom and democracy?
I hope someone does – because if Ronald Reagan were here he would.