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From D-Day to E-Day: Legacy of the Longest Day

​Illustration of the graves at the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial after the US ceremony marking the 80th anniversary of the World War II D-Day Allied landings in Normandy, in Colleville-sur-Mer, France, on June 6, 2024.

Illustration of the graves at the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial after the US ceremony marking the 80th anniversary of the World War II D-Day Allied landings in Normandy, in Colleville-sur-Mer, France, on June 6, 2024.

Ammar Abd Rabbo/ABACAPRESS.COM via Reuters

At 5:52 a.m. on June 6, 1944, Private First Class Gene Sellers, a high-school football star who had just received a scholarship to play at the University of Arkansas, leaped from a plane to parachute behind Nazi lines in Normandy, France. As part of the Pathfinder unit, Sellers’ job was to set up a covert radio and communications base to help guide the rest of the American troops who would follow hours later as part of Operation Overlord. Tragically, Sellers drifted too far behind enemy lines and was spotted and killed, becoming the first American casualty of D-Day.

Later that morning, on a nearby strip of coastline, Jim Parks,of the Royal Winnipeg Rifles, joined 21,000 other Canadians attempting to land at Juno Beach. They immediately came under heavy German fire, and Parks had to jump into the ocean.

“I was a mortar carrier,” Parks says in a remarkable video you can watch at the Juno Beach Centre. Weighed down by all his equipment, Parks thought he would drown, but somehow he managed to swim to shore. Once there, however, he had to go back into the heaving ocean and drag out the bodies of men who’d been shot in the first minutes of the operation. There were 359 Canadians among the 4,000 Allied troops who made the ultimate sacrifice on that day.

The 80th anniversary of D-Day is being marked today by world leaders, including President Joe Biden and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, both of whom are in France alongside the very few remaining veterans who witnessed the carnage.

This anniversary is particularly resonant as the West questions whether the alliances that have supported the world for 80 years are coming to an end. Will Election Day in the US lead to a Trump administration that backs out of NATO and moves toward realigning the global order around a new American isolationism?

On the one hand, NATO has never been stronger. With the additions of Sweden and Finland, the alliance that started with just 12 countries is now 32 members strong. The Russian invasion of Ukraine two years ago has reanimated the purpose of NATO and the need to protect and defend democracies. By that measure, alliances are stronger and more relevant than ever.

On the other hand, populist forces in the US are engaged in what might well be called “Operation Undermine”: an effort to defund NATO altogether. This week, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) got the support of 46 Republican members for her “Defund NATO” amendment to the Military Construction and Veteran Affairs appropriations bill. She sought to remove over $433 million of funding earmarked for NATO bases where US soldiers are stationed and to focus on what she calls the invasion of America on the southern border. Her amendment failed, but the effort to retreat into a radical form of US isolationism is real, robust, and ongoing.

Greene called out Canada, France, Germany, and others for failing to meet NATO’s 2% GDP defense target spending, which is a valid point. If you want insurance, you gotta pay for it.

As of this year, only 18 of the 32 countries in NATO will hit that target. Canada remains a laggard on this metric – an issue that will most certainly come up at next month’s crucial NATO summit in Washington.

This summit will mark the 75th anniversary of the alliance, and countries – including Canada – will be expected to make bigger commitments (though not enough to reach 2% in the near term) as the threats get bigger. But support will not be unanimous, and it will be interesting to see which Republicans show up and speak loudly about the importance of NATO given the fact that Donald Trump will secure the Republican nomination only days later.

Alliances, however, depend on trade as much as security. Since 1945, the small “l” liberal world order has been stitched together by global trade agreements; treaties on nuclear arms, space, AI, and climate; and myriad other issues. It has worked to achieve a period of peace and prosperity. But those structures are under threat by demagogues and isolationists who ignore their rules altogether.

The efficacy of the EU was deeply challenged by Brexit, while in North America, the next big challenge will be the 2026 renegotiation of the United States–Mexico–Canada Agreement on trade. If Trump is elected in November, he could rip it up, shredding a key alliance, hurting economic growth with tariffs, and sowing more distrust. Tariffs are always challenging to the global economy as they protect local industries but generally make goods more expensive and hurt local productivity. They also undermine global trade treaties.

That is why next week, Eurasia Group, GZERO’s parent company, and the Bank of Montreal are co-hosting a nonpartisan summit in Toronto, where they will take a deep dive into the US-Canada alliance on everything from trade and security resources to climate. This is the biggest trading relationship in the world, and ensuring that it is not disrupted is crucial for the prosperity of citizens in both countries. We will have a full report on the substance of next week’s US-Canada summit, including what guests from across the political spectrum had to say, in this newsletter.

D-Day is a reminder that alliances like ours are hard-won, obtained through the blood of people like Gene Sellers and seared in the memory of veterans like Jim Parks. Alliances like NATO allowed us all to secure our freedoms, turn former enemies into allies, and create an unprecedented period of prosperity and peace. They inspire generations of people to make sacrifices for the greater good and for the values we cherish in democracies. Those are all under threat, and today of all days, we might want to think twice before throwing away the rewards of D-Day for the politics of E-Day.


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