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What We Can Learn from D-Day and the Apollo Program

November 23, 2009
by Marc D. Paradis MS
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Why such large and complex efforts succeeded where healthcare reform may yet still fail

Well, now we have a healthcare bill in the House of Representatives and another one in the Senate. All of the political maneuvering, monetary machinations and lobbying efforts that we have seen to date has been in preparation for this penultimate showdown – the fight before the final fight. In my space here, I don’t want to wade into or debate the merits or demerits of policy or try to predict the future. I do want to speak to a lost sense of purpose.


Casablanca, January 1943 Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Winston Churchill and Charles de Gaulle meet to lay out grand strategy. The U.S. has experienced some tenuous gains (viz. Operation Torch, Guadalcanal Campaign) in a logistically punishing two-front war with fronts literally on opposite sides of the world on opposite sides of the two largest oceans of the planet. Britain is the last democracy in Europe and has suffered through the military and civilian nightmares of the Battle of the Atlantic, the Battle of Britain and the Blitz. Charles de Gaulle represents a people and nation broken and occupied. Joseph Stalin is unable to attend as Russia is enduring the unendurable, experiencing the greatest loss of men, women, children and material in military history in the grinding Battles for Stalingrad, Leningrad and Moscow. These leaders agree in Casablanca that Nazi Germany must be the first of the Axis powers to be defeated, the defeat of Imperial Japan for all her rapaciousness, and despite the nearly incomprehensible cruelty of her occupations of China, Korea, Southeast Asia, Indonesia and the Phillipines, will be a secondary strategic goal.

Each of the Allied leaders, and the vast majority of the peoples they governed, agreed that the Axis powers must be stopped. However, there was strident disagreement between Roosevelt, Churchill, de Gaulle and Stalin. Stalin pushed for an immediate invasion of any part of Europe, desperate as he was to relieve the pressure on his home cities. De Gaulle was preoccupied with Henri Giraud, his political rival for leadership of the Free French. Churchill looked to the soft underbelly of Europe to open the second front, as much to check Soviet expansion as to defeat Hitler and finally Roosevelt made it clear that the only plan the U.S. would fully support involved a direct push across the English Channel, through the Low Countries, into Germany. And so, planning for the invasion of Fortress Europe, what came to be know as Operation Overlord, in which D-Day was merely the opening act, began with four radically different views of what should be done and of how it should be done.


The planning, preparation and execution of D-Day, and the larger Operation Overlord, was an undertaking easily as complex and momentous as our current efforts to reform healthcare. Millions of lives and the wealth and fortunes of nations hinged on the success of this strategic plan. What’s more countries with diametrically opposed political and social systems, namely communist, totalitarian Russia versus capitalist, democratic America and classist, parliamentarian England found ways to work together in order to help each other and ultimately to bring about the shared goal of the destruction of the Axis threat.






Nice perspective and sentiment.

The healthcare crises, the "haves" and "have nots" are dealing with two more dimensions:

- a deep and powerful class issue (exemplified by law makers have different coverage than, say Vets or MediCaid recipients), and
- personal (or limited to family) impact of health and healthcare delivery issues (eg our neighbor's child's cancer care rarely leads to a large uproar.  When it does, it's more often a villification of a public or private sector entity, than a thoughtful prod toward reform.)

Unlike D-Day, people are fragmented into groups with very different economic interests.

The work over the last decade to put a face on this has been critical. Don Berwick's wife's care (Escape Fire), his right knee, and Sorrell King's Josie's story come to mind. We continue to need powerful rallying cries.

Your post helps put a positive historical scope perspective on our societal decision point and it inspires.