Heroes and Villains

General Dwight D. Eisenhower Takes Responsibility for the D-Day Invasion

Students will explore the virtue of responsibility in this lesson on civic virtue.  Students will examine the military decisions that Dwight Eisenhower made on D-Day in World War II and how he took responsibility for his grave decisions of launching the Normandy invasion.  Students will analyze a historical narrative, discussion guide, primary sources, and other activities to explore the virtue of responsibility in a constitutional republic and civil society.

Founding Principles

Individual Responsibility image

Individual Responsibility

Individuals must take care of themselves and their families and be vigilant to preserve their liberty.

Suggested Launch Activity

CENTRAL QUESTIONS
Why is it important for a leader to take responsibility for decisions in a republic of self-governing citizens?

DISCUSSION

  • Ask the students the central question about responsibility in a self-governing society.
  • Why is it important for a leader to take responsibility for decisions in a republic of self-governing citizens?
  • Follow up by asking them, what would happen in a self-governing republic in which leaders did not take responsibility?

ANALYZING PRIMARY SOURCES

  • Ask students, what is a primary source? Can you give an example?
  • Explain that primary sources include diaries, letters, government documents, speeches, and newspapers that allow us to study the people of the past and their actions. Primary sources help to give us insights into why a person might have acted in a certain manner. Those insights can help us make some reasonable judgments about whether a person’s actions were virtuous and
    for the good of society.
  • Ask students, can the content of a primary source be affected by whether it is intended for a private or public audience?
  • Explain that what one writes for private use only, such as a diary, might be more honest and open. How one acts or what one writes in private might reveal a great deal about character. On the other hand, one might still advance an agenda if the person thinks that those actions or words will be seen by the larger public.
  • Also, explain how the content of a public document in a republican self-governing society might be influenced by the character of the speaker or writer. A leader in a republican society might try to persuade whereas in a dictatorship the leader might simply try to command. Moreover, a virtuous leader in a republic may have a grand moral vision that will help to shape public opinion for the good of society. Finally, the content of a public document may be devoted to promoting some idea or agenda more than what is written in a diary. Citizens in a self-governing society must be vigilant and critical of their leaders to ensure that the character of their leadership is virtuous, promotes the public good, and supports a healthy civil society.

About Launch Activities

This optional introductory activity is designed to support you in the classroom. However, the primary narratives and photos in the section that follows can be used with or without this introduction.

Lesson Background

During the evening of June 2, 1944, Supreme Commander, Allied Expeditionary Force, General Dwight D. Eisenhower met with Winston Churchill, British General Bernard Montgomery, and other military commanders at Allied headquarters in England. They were discussing and planning Overlord invasion of Normandy, which was scheduled to launch in a few days….

Essay PDF

Sources and Further Reading

Ambrose, Stephen. Eisenhower: Soldier, General of the Army, President-Elect, 1890-1952. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1985.

D’Este, Carlo. Eisenhower: A Soldier’s Life. New York: Henry Holt, 2002.

Eisenhower, David. Eisenhower at War, 1943-1945. New York: Random House, 1986.

Eisenhower, Dwight D. Crusade in Europe. 1948.

Johnson, Paul. Eisenhower: A Life. New York: Viking, 2014.

Korda, Michael. Ike: An American Hero. New York: Harper, 2007.

Perret, Geoffrey. Eisenhower. New York: Random House, 1999.

Smith, Jean Edward. Eisenhower in War and Peace. New York: Random House, 2012.

Virtue Across the Curriculum

A Few Good Men (1992), directed by Rob Reiner
Two U.S. Marines are tried for murder but are acquitted of most of the charges except for “conduct unbecoming a Marine.” One Marine complains they were only following orders and asks, “What did we do wrong? We did nothing wrong.” The other Marine, however, takes responsibility for his actions and admits that the verdict was just. He replies, “Yeah, we did. We were supposed to fight for the people who couldn’t fight for themselves. We were supposed to fight for Willie.”

Thor (2011), directed by Kenneth Branagh
Thor is the arrogant and disobedient son of King Odin. After a dispute, Odin takes Thor’s powers and weapons, and casts him out of Asgard to Earth. Meanwhile, Thor’s evil brother, Loki, steals the throne from Odin and sends an invincible robot, The Destroyer, to kill Thor and wreak havoc on Earth. After almost being killed, Thor decides to take responsibility for the actions that led to the battle and sacrifice his own life. He says to Loki, “Brother, however I have wronged you, whatever I have done that has led you to this, I am truly sorry. But these people are innocent, taking their lives will gain you nothing. So take mine, and end this.” Odin restores Thor’s powers, and he defeats The Destroyer. Thor saves both Earth and Asgard from Loki’s schemes.

Twelve Angry Men, directed by Sidney Lamet
Twelve jurors debate whether a young man is guilty of killing his father. One of the jurors stops to reflect on their civic responsibility of serving on a jury dispassionately to protect the rights of the accused:

“This fighting, that’s not why we’re here, to fight. We have a responsibility. This I have always thought is a remarkable thing about democracy that we are—what is the word—notified. That we are notified by mail to come down to this place to decide on the guilt or innocence of man we have never heard of before. We have nothing to gain or lose by our verdict. This is one of the reasons why we are strong. We should not make it a personal thing.”

OTHER WORKS
Joseph Addison, Cato
Beowulf
The Blind Side (2009), directed by John Lee Hancock
Coach Carter (2005), directed by Thomas Carter
Virgil, The Aeneid

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