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The Whole Story with Anderson Cooper

D-Day, Why We Still Fight For Democracy. Aired 8-9p ET

Aired June 02, 2024 - 20:00   ET




On June 6th, 1944, American, Canadian, British, and other Allied Forces launched the largest amphibious invasion in history. Nearly 160,000 troops landed along five beaches in Normandy, France, in what became known as D-Day.

It was a turning point in the war in Europe. World War II was fought against fascist regimes and Germany and Italy and Imperial Japan. The victory of democratic principles was hard won. But 80 years have passed since D-Day and we thought it'd be a good time to take a look at the state of our democracy today.

Over the next hour, CNN's Jake Tapper looks back at D-Day, the sacrifices so many young men made on those beaches in Normandy that day and what it means to us now.


JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: What were we fighting for?

GEN. JAMES MATTIS (RET.), FORMER SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: We were locked in a battle with fascism. We're fighting for our freedom, for the freedom to think as we wish, talk as we wish.

GEN. MARK MILLEY (RET.), FORMER CHAIRMAN, JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF: They gave their life to preserve and protect that Constitution.

GEN. JOHN KELLY (RET.), U.S. MARINE CORPS: They died for our democracy. That wasn't the thing they were thinking about when they ran out of the landing craft, whatever, but at the end of the day, that's what they were protecting.

GEORGE STEITZ, FORMER ARMY CORPORAL ON D-DAY: We're trying to save democracy because of what crazy Hitler was doing.

TAPPER (voice-over): Eighty years ago, Thursday, on June 6th, 1944, five years after Adolf Hitler and the Nazis began their global conquest and slaughter of millions of innocents. The U.S., United Kingdom and Canada launched "Operation Overlord," the largest seaborne invasion ever. The allies' goal, to free France, defeat Germany, and restore democracy to Europe.

JAKE LARSON, 101-YEAR-OLD D-DAY VETERAN: D-Day was supposed to be June 5th. Storm came in, postponed for a day.

TAPPER: Jake Larson is 101 years old. On D-Day, he was 21, from rural Minnesota, and an aide to a colonel who helped plan the attack.

LARSON: I was an expert typist. Every person that landed on Omaha Beach on D-Day came through these fingers. I typed their name.

TAPPER: One hour after midnight, about 23,000 British and American paratroopers began dropping behind enemy lines.

MILLEY: And their mission was to secure causeways and enable the amphibious invasion, secure key terrain.

TAPPER: Over the next few hours before dawn, about 133,000 troops crossed the English Channel. Their destination, right into the line of fire of Germany's heavily fortified so-called Atlantic wall. On France's Normandy coast.

The Brits led the attacks at Sword and Gold Beaches. The Canadians and Brits headed to Juno Beach. The Americans were to take Utah and Omaha. Among them, 19-year-old Army Corporal George Steitz from Beacon, New York.

STEITZ: Three other ships went across at the same time. All of a sudden, the shells started coming. We heard this big crash that blew the second ship right out of the water. Got hit by artillery shell. We said, what about those guys? Nothing we could do. The water was so cold, hyperthermia would set and kill them 15 minutes. They're probably all gone, blown up already. So that was welcome to the European theater of operations.

TOLLEY FLETCHER, 99-YEAR-OLD D-DAY VETERAN: Halfway into the beach, we started seeing bodies everywhere that's floating or semi-floating.

TAPPER: Navyman Tolley fletcher was a 19-year-old gunner's mate from Baton Rouge, Louisiana. His task, escort the LCIs, the landing crafts ferrying infantry fighters such as Corporal Steitz to shore.

STEITZ: They said, we're going to take you into water up to your knees and they dropped the front of the LCI. Now the ensign says, go. Nobody moves. The ensign yells, go, nobody moves.


He says, all right, Billy, cock the 50. The guy rings back on the 50- caliber machine gun. He says we're going to give them 30 seconds. Then start shooting from back to front. I'm in the back. You know what I'm doing. Push. Our first step up to our knees is right here. Right up to our shoulders. The next thing we hear, get those rifles up in the air. We can always get new men, but we can't get new rifles.

TAPPER: Omaha Beach was 300 yards of flat terrain protected with razor wire and landmines. Beyond that deadly terrain a cliff and from that high ground highly trained German machine gunners. Roughly 2500 American men died that day on the beaches of Normandy.

The idea of landing where there are German machine guns and cannons firing at you from above and they're fortified.

KELLY: Right.

TAPPER: The only way that plan makes sense is if you think you're an American commander and you say, well, we're just going to put so many Americans on the ground that they can't kill us all.

KELLY: Right.

TAPPER: But that's terrifying.

KELLY: Yes. It is terrifying. But that's war. Takes -- you know, putting a young person with a gun out in front and relying on that person to keep going regardless of what he faces. And if he goes down, the guy right behind him takes over, and the next guy and the next guy, and that's how we win.

LARSON: And I found just a little berm, sandstone berm, that protected me from the fire. I'm laying there, and I reach for my pocket and I pull out a package of cigarettes, and I sensed someone to my left. So I said, hey, buddy, have you got a match? I got no answer. So I turned and there was a helmet, then there was no head on the body.

It was at that exact moment, it was just like the soul of that soldier was talking to me and said right now, get up and run, and I did. It was crazy. I made it without being shot there.

STEITZ: There were so many dead GIs that they came along later with a bulldozer. Dug a trench about 200 feet long, maybe 20 feet wide, 10 feet deep. And they pushed the American bodies into the hole. Then they covered them up. Of course, the bodies are in a body bag and everybody had a dog tag.

FLETCHER: Utah, as best as I could tell, was hardly any trouble compared to Omaha.

TAPPER (voice-over): 19-year-old Staff Sergeant George Mullins of Eastern Kentucky was on Utah Beach.

GEORGE MULLINS, 99-YEAR-OLD D-DAY VETERAN: The second night, I was in combat. It was too dark for me to see. The next morning, they found 43 boys wounded and dead there. That's how close I came.

TAPPER: It took weeks for the allied powers to win the battle of Normandy. 73,000 allied service members were killed.

MILLEY: The size and scale of D-Day is enormous. There's a great quote that they fought together as brothers-in-arms and they died together, and now they sleep side-by-side. And to them, we have a solemn obligation. To every one of us, and to those that have sacrificed we have a solemn obligation to continue this experiment of liberty.

TAPPER: That experiment continues. But it is more vulnerable today than in years past.

In his 1941 State of the Union address, President Franklin Roosevelt discussed a world founded upon four essential human freedoms.

FRANKLIN ROOSEVELT, 32ND PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Freedom of speech and the expression. Freedom of every person to worship. Freedom from want. Freedom from fear.

There is no vision of a distant millennium. It is a definite basis for a kind of world attainable in our time and generation.

TAPPER: And yet 103 of the 167 major countries in the world, 62 percent of them have become less democratic in the last generation.


ANNE APPLEBAUM, HISTORIAN AND AUTHOR, "AUTOCRACY INC": The decline has a lot of sources. I tend to think it's almost as if we are living through an era of incredible change. So economic change, demographic change, informational change, and people react against change by wanting things to become simpler. The idea of a unified government, the idea even of a dictator becomes appealing.

TAPPER: And so 80 years after D-Day, a day when we honor Allied Forces who fought and died for democracy, we wanted to hear from those who survived that day.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: George Washington's Library.

TAPPER: And others who have borne the battle, and were willing to make that sacrifice. Retired four-star Marine General John Kelly.

KELLY: He earned it.

TAPPER: Retired four-star Marine General, Jim Mattis, a former secretary of Defense.

How does it feel to even be having these conversations about the future of democracy after all the sacrifice that you have personally witnessed?

MATTIS: Well, I considered it a privilege. I was a U.S. Marine, and that's a source of pride for those of us who are there. But at the same time, I think it's healthy that we have the discussions, that we not ignore reality.

MILLEY: World War II was an enormous conflict.

TAPPER: And retired four-star Army General Mark Milley, a former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Milley was inspired to serve by his uncle who was at Normandy, his father who fought in the Pacific and his mother who nursed the wounded stateside.

MILLEY: A headstone of an unknown.

TAPPER: In early June, Milley flew to France. He plans to honor the fallen heroes at the 80th anniversary commemoration on Omaha Beach.

MILLEY: It's incumbent upon us, the living, to pass on their memory, to live their values, to ensure that what they fought for lives through the next generation.

TAPPER: What did they all think about how well we are guarding those democratic ideals, those four freedoms, the more than 400,000 American service members died for?

MULLINS: I didn't fight a war for this.

TAPPER: That's ahead.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Counter invasion was on. They faced a prolonged and bloody campaign in which this beachhead was only the first thrust.

STEITZ: It wasn't until after 10 days that we had the beach solidified that we called it ours.

TAPPER: The Allied forces had won the day but for then 19-year-old Army Corporal George Steitz, the grind of war had just begun.


STEITZ: I was spent 30 bucks overseas. That was unfortunately different countries, some of the other bad taste I saw, I'd like to talk about.

TAPPER: The Battle of Normandy raged on for nearly three months and more carnage was just around the corner. A December 1944 surprised German attack, the last major German offensive on the western front, the brutal, the bloody Battle of the Bulge. As the allies pushed to Berlin nearly a year after D-Day, Steitz was sent to Germany as part of an occupation unit.

STEITZ: The German were in full retreat. They knew they were done.

TAPPER: Along the way he encountered the depths of Nazi horrors.

STEITZ: We're driving down a road then all of a sudden we see these people out there in their pajamas. They weighed about 80 pounds.

People say there's no such thing as concentration camps. They were there. You could smell it. That's the worst smelling a bird body or a dead body. It's something you don't forget. I never told anybody. Once I got home, just forget about it.

MILLEY: It's a brutal, brutal, vicious thing, this thing called war. The degree of sacrifice and pain and suffering is unbelievable. We've got to do everything we can to make sure that we don't have a major armed conflict between great powers. That's why this rules-based order is so important.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The victorious countries met and designed the charter of the United Nations.

TAPPER: This rules-based order he's talking about was put in place by the Allies after World War II to protect the newly restored democracies with a set of rules and institutions.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Without agreement on a charter, the structure of peace cannot be built at all.

APPLEBAUM: Part of this was done through the United Nations, which essentially said that we don't chain borders by force. Some of this was the use of the language of human rights that became part of international treaties and agreements. Essentially the idea was that we try and solve as many problems if we can by negotiation and diplomacy rather than fighting.

TAPPER: Then in 1949, when Joseph Stalin's USSR seized seven nations and threatened other democratic countries, the Allies added a military component establishing NATO. Democratic allies banding together as a force to deter Soviet aggression.

MILLEY: Rule one was that great powers or any power should not cross international borders with their military unless it's an act of defense.

TAPPER: The United States has fought for that principle over and over.

MILLEY: When North Korea crossed the border in the summer 1950, President Truman immediately deployed forces.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Marine reinforcements are rushed to the scene since the Red sneak attack on Southern Korea.

MILLEY: When Saddam Hussein crossed the border to attack Kuwait, President Bush immediately deployed the 82nd Airborne Division.

TAPPER: And now Vladimir Putin's decidedly undemocratic Russia has been waging a war against the democratic nation of Ukraine for more than two years. Mark Milley was the top military adviser to President Biden when President Putin invaded Ukraine.

MILLEY: What Putin did in February 22 was to conduct an outright war of aggression. He did a frontal assault on the very purpose, the why of what World War II was fought about.

TAPPER: It's extremely concerning to retired General John Kelly.

KELLY: When you invade a country that may not be perfect, but it is a growing democracy, if you get away with it, you might do it again. And it is pretty easy to predict what would happen I think if Ukraine fell to the onslaught of what they're experiencing right now.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Welcome to the Red Book Suite here at the George Washington Library.

TAPPER: This is very cool. This is interesting.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. So this is cool here. This little booklet just documents a special visit we had. Look at the date, August 31st, 2021.

TAPPER: Right before. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Six months before the invasion.

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's an honor and a pleasure to welcome President Zelenskyy.

TAPPER (voice-over): Back in 2021, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy was in Washington, D.C. to learn about the democratic ideal of the United States and to appeal to the United States for aid. This was before Russian President Putin's full-scale invasion.

You are a retired general when the intel started coming in that Putin was going to send Russian forces in to invade and attack Ukraine. What were you thinking when you started hearing it?

KELLY: Well, my sense was, we didn't stop him in the caucuses. He kind of did what he wanted, and so the next step for a guy like him is attack someone else.

TAPPER: It sounds a lot like Hitler in terms of their never being satisfied with acquiring land.

KELLY: He's not necessarily trying to re-establish the old Soviet Union but certainly the old Russian empire. You know, pray, pray, pray that he never crosses that line, but you never know with a guy like Putin.


If he thinks he can get away with it, just like the dictator of North Korea, if those kind of people think they can get away with it, they'll go.

TAPPER (voice-over): Which is why these generals argue that another component of NATO, Article Five, is so critical. Article Five states that when someone attacks a NATO country all are obligated to respond.

MATTIS: Allies, allies, allies. When the British and the Canadian and American troops landed on the beaches of Normandy, we were allies and we were linking up with the French resistance to shore. So that's how you deal with authoritarians. We get the allies together, the democracy together. You stand up to them.

TAPPER: For some D-Day veterans, the Russian invasion of Ukraine has disturbing echoes of the German occupation.

MULLINS: It's history all over again. I'm so dang let down.

LARSON: Putin is just like Hitler. You tell a big lie and you tell it often enough, people get to believe you.

MATTIS: The threat he poses is real. He's a creature straight out of Dostoevsky.

TAPPER: Can Putin be contained?

MATTIS: Absolutely Putin can be contained so long as the democracies stay tightly linked. I would just point out, though, right now, you're watching China and North Korea, and Iran stand with Russia. Those are the allies that Putin has. The question is, will the Western allies stand with Ukraine, and if the pro-Putin caucus in the U.S. Congress has their way then of course it wouldn't.

REP. MARCUS MOLINARO (R-NY): The bill is passed.

MATTIS: But you saw 75 percent of the Congress vote for aid.

TAPPER: How important is the NATO alliance?

KELLY: It's super important. NATO is hugely important.

TAPPER: Your former boss, Donald Trump, was one of those people leading the charge for other countries to pay their fair share. But I've also heard him criticized for not really being committed to NATO. Do you have any concerns about that?

KELLY: I do. There are some Americans who feel as though to come home and just let the world and go its own way. And I think he was responding to that sentiment in some cases. He did push them to pony up and get into the 2 percent of GDP. And most of them, you know, are working towards that.

TAPPER (voice-over): There are also critics who argue President Biden's Afghanistan withdrawal in 2020 sent the wrong message to Putin about American resolve.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): We shouldn't have withdrawn the troops. When we did, that was like sending a green light to Putin.

TAPPER: What other countries do you think would be at risk if Ukraine were to ultimately fall to the Russians?

KELLY: Well, if you listened to Putin in terms of what he's trying to re-establish, certainly the Baltic countries would be at risk.

TAPPER (voice-over): And the dominos may keep falling.

MATTIS: If Ukraine, the shield of Europe, falls you're going to see an emboldened President Xi and China as he eyes Taiwan. You're going to see a world where more people think they can get away literally with murder.

TAPPER: Coming up, the rise of authoritarianism around the world.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A great allied push in the west is generating more punt and punch in the desolate flooded fields of Holland. Heavy mortar fire is encountered on the way.

MULLINS: We had thousands of rounds dropped on us. 25,000 rounds, I believe. That went on all night. I got hit in the shoulder and I had never been hit before. Shrapnel was just like sticking a hard hot poker right through you. I have never seen before or since them M1 rifles was going like machine guns.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The relentless sweep of communism has radically changed the map of Europe.

TAPPER: The end of World War II ushered in the Cold War era in what may have been the original battle for hearts and minds.

HARRY TRUMAN, 33RD PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The United States of America wants to see the Cold War ends.

TAPPER: From the borders of Eastern Europe to nearby Cuba, to Korea and Vietnam, the ferocious clash between democracy combined with free markets versus iron curtain communism raged on for decades.

RONALD REAGAN, 40TH PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.

TAPPER: The fall came in November 1989.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Our top story, the iron curtain between East Germany and West Berlin has come tumbling down.

APPLEBAUM: The fall of the Berlin Wall was an incredibly important moment around the world because it showed that the power of civic organization, the power of democratic ideas, the power of the language, of freedom, of the rule of law, and of democracy could overcome even the most powerful and what we had thought to be the most permanent form of dictatorship. The dangerous part is that we became convinced that it would go on forever.


TAPPER: Do you think we take democracy too much for granted today in 2024?

MILLEY: Now there has been recently democratic backsliding arise in populist movements, arise in autocracy, arise in either outright dictatorships and-or authoritarian governments.

TAPPER (voice-over): The increase in the world's population living in autocracies is staggering. In 2003, it was 50 percent. Two decades later, 71 percent of people worldwide live under autocratic regimes, according to independent think tank V Dam, which monitors global governments annually.

ROSEMARY CHURCH, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: Myanmar executes four pro- democracy activists. The U.N. secretary-general says the move signals further deterioration of an already dire human rights environment in Myanmar.

MILLEY: There was a lot of people who don't think a democratic republic is a successful form of how to govern yourselves. I think it would be fair to say that it's constantly under stress. TAPPER: And of course that authoritarian rise goes hand in hand with a

steep decline in democracy. Less than 8 percent of the world lives in a full democracy, according to the EIU democracy index's latest numbers. Disturbingly low especially to many who fought for the right to democracy.

MULLINS: Well, I'll tell them, let them live under that fascist government for about so many years and they'll find out what it's like.

TAPPER: Democratic freedom has been particularly hard hit in parts of Asia and Eastern Europe.

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: Hungary got total overwhelming parliamentary support for extraordinary powers and for the Prime Minister Orban to rule by decree.

APPLEBAUM: Orban has been explicitly named and explicitly seen by a part of the Republican Party as a model. Why? Because he took power. He undermined the independence of the judiciary. He took over universities. He undermined or captured quite a lot of the media through manipulation, through financing. And by doing that, he stayed in power indefinitely.

KYUNG LAH, CNN SENIOR INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT: This is America's Conservative Political Action Conference, CPAC, but exported to Budapest, Hungary, a country led by authoritarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban.

TAPPER: The embrace by American conservatives of Hungarian ruler Viktor Orban, who spoke at CPAC conferences in 2022, '23 and '24, has alarmed even other conservatives, such as "Washington Post" columnist Mark Thiessen. Orban said, quote, "We do not want to become peoples of mixed race," which prompted Thiessen to say this on FOX News in 2022.

MARK THIESSEN, WASHINGTON POST COLUMNIST: I can't believe that CPAC is a place where Liz Cheney is not welcomed and Viktor Orban is, who is a Hungarian David Duke.

TAPPER: Also noting how Orban flew to Moscow to, quote, "proudly shake Putin's hand," at a time when other Western leaders were shunning Putin as a pariah.

APPLEBAUM: The plan is to eliminate any sources of opposition or criticism from within the state or inside the society. So that model is attractive to people who are looking for a way to stay in power permanently, not to lose any elections.

LAH: Since 2010, Orban has crushed dissent. He's taken control of the judiciary and major media, and limited rights especially for gay people. This is the leader held up by CPAC as a conservative hero in a war against the left.

TAPPER: Meanwhile, on the political left in the United States, the cause of promoting the rights of Palestinians in the midst of Israel's war against Hamas in Gaza has in some cases been heavily influenced by those supporting the terrorist anti-democracy forces of Hezbollah, Hamas, and the repressive government of Iran.

According to "Politico," moments after Iran launched an attack on Israel, around 400 pro-Palestinian protesters in Chicago broke out in chants of "hands off Iran." Moreover, a "New York Times" investigation found hundreds of millions of dollars in donations to progressive groups that seemed to also repeat talking points from the Chinese Communist Party, quote, "Code Pink once criticized China's rights record, but now defends its interment of the predominantly Muslim Uyghurs which human rights experts have labeled a crime against humanity."

Do you view the world as this global battle between democracy and autocracy? This struggle that we faced in World War II still continues today with the autocracies also not just Russia, but China and Iran?


MILLEY: So there's great cause for concern. I don't think we're at the levels of, you know, World War II levels yet, but that'll take a lot of very, very serious diplomatic and military and economic engagement over the years to come in order to prevent another great power war.

APPLEBAUM: The United States remains a beacon for political oppositions, for the Iranian women's movement, for the Navalny movement in Russia, you know, for the Hong Kong democracy movement. And they count on us to be a kind of a model or kind of example. We are still seen as the leader of the world's democracies.

TAPPER (voice-over): Coming up, some less than model behavior.

REP. MARJORIE TAYLOR GREENE (R-GA): I think your fake eyelashes are messing up --





FLETCHER: I would carry that bag the whole time I was in the Navy, when I travel, and so it came in handy when I needed to pick up stuff that I wanted to save. The first thing in here, this is (INAUDIBLE), out of German machine guns. We found these and grenades, and this is a clip of cartridges for a rifle.

This is a German bayonets that we found. That's what it looks like, the whole thing. This just attaches to the end of your rifle barrel so that -- when you need it.

TAPPER: 99-year-old Tolley Fletcher, the former Navy gunner's mate, proudly showed us his spoils from the time he entered the fight for freedom and thankfully emerged alive and victorious.

The greatest generation saved democracy. But veterans such as Staff Sergeant George Mullins believed that generations that followed allowed that democracy to weaken here at home.

MULLINS: It's a letdown for me to think that we have got what we got now. I didn't fight a war for this.

TAPPER: There is some reason for concern. In 2016, the democracy index at "The Economist" downgraded the U.S. from a full democracy to a flawed democracy, citing a steep decline in trust of public institutions. That moved the U.S. from the category with countries such as Sweden and Canada, and put the U.S. in the category with places where democracy is more recent and fragile, such as Chile and Estonia.

And that new categorization came before January 6th, 2021.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is our Capitol.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is our house, man.

STEITZ: It was a disgrace. What they did was completely wrong. People were hurt, people were killed.

LARSON: Lots of kind of stuff that makes me sick. That people can get by with that kind of stuff.

TAPPER: How concerned about American democracy were you on January 6th, 2021?

KELLY: I wasn't really -- I wasn't concerned. I mean, in many ways it worked. The whole process worked. I mean, it was ugly as that was and as embarrassed and horrified as we all should be about that, we had a vice president that said, you know, I'll stand with the rule of law and the Constitution. And then afterwards we held people accountable.


TAPPER (voice-over): The American system of checks and balances may have prevented attempts to undermine the counting of legitimate votes cast in 2020, but it has not prevented all moves away from democracy here in the U.S.

What about the attacks on journalists, the refusal to accept election results, the attacks on the judiciary? Does that concern you?

KELLY: It does concern me. I don't get it. As hard as I tried to understand why some of these things are happening, I just don't get it.

TAPPER: What about the divisions in America today concerns you?

MATTIS: Well, the idea today that we can use scorching rhetoric against each other.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you know what we're here for?

(CROSSTALK) GREENE: You know what you're here for.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well, you don't want to talk about --

GREENE: I think your fake eyelashes are messing --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No, I had nothing --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hold on, hold on.

MATTIS: The idea that we can turn what we're doing in politics into gladiatorial combat.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How dare you attack the physical appearance of another person?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The lady will suspend -- the lady will suspend.

GREENE: Are your feelings hurt?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Move her words down. Oh, girl, baby girl.

GREENE: Oh, really?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Don't even play.

MATTIS: And we can do so without consequences is foolish.

REP. TIM BURCHETT (R-TN): I got elbowed in the back and I turned back, there was Kevin.

KEVIN MCCARTHY (R), FORMER HOUSE SPEAKER: If I kidney punched him, he'd be on the ground. So come on.

MATTIS: Read history. Nations that turn on themselves they do not survive. It's that simple. And so right now in Beijing and in Moscow, I can imagine them watching, and they're clapping as we tear each other apart.


TAPPER (voice-over): They may be clapping. And according to the Republican chairman of the House Intelligence Committee and House Foreign Affairs Committee, their rhetoric is being parroted in Congress.

REP. MIKE TURNER (R-OH): We see directly coming from Russia attempts to mask communications that are anti-Ukraine and pro-Russia messages. Some of which we even here being uttered on the House floor.

TAPPER: According to Anne Applebaum of "The Atlantic," the goal is to further divide American citizens and destabilize U.S. democracy.

APPLEBAUM: Russia, China, North Korea, and Iran. These are all countries that fundamentally have an interest in seeing democracy line in the United States, both because American power is a problem for them, it challenges them in their parts of the world, and because the ideal or the example of democracy, whether in the U.S. or in Europe is so inspiring to their own opposition movements.

They do this by amplifying narratives, by intervening in our social media. They're interested in our decline. But it will be up to us to stop it.

TAPPER: The demonization of our political opponents in the United States has led to many acts of horrific violence in recent years going far beyond January 6th, 2021. Such as a shooter almost killing Republican Congressman Steve Scalise in 2017. Pipe bombs sent to Democrats and journalists in 2019. A would-be assassin arrested near the home of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh in 2022.

And the break-in at the home of now former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, where her husband was violently attacked. All the while too many in the media and political environment are incentivized to attack for the short-lived sugar rush of clicks and fundraising dollars. And not find common ground.

MATTIS: The best thing we can do for democracy worldwide, prove that a government of the people by the people for the people can really govern, can handle the fundamental issues, can find common ground. It can hold together.

APPLEBAUM: Nowadays democracies rarely collapse. They don't fall apart in dramatic street scenes or coups. But they do decline slowly, and they do decline because autocratic political parties or leaders seek to capture the state, to take over state institutions and politicize them for their own purposes. That to me is a very plausible scenario in United States.

KELLY: One of things I would like, regardless of what happens in November who the next president is, I would love for people to maybe step back and say, OK, what's done is done. And start talking about how do we not let this happen again?

TAPPER: Ahead.

Do you see any scenarios where the U.S. and NATO could be involved in another great powers war?



TAPPER: As a Marine, does this image have special meaning to you?

MATTIS: It certainly does, it certainly does.

TAPPER (voice-over): Having commanded service members in the Persian Gulf War, Iraq and Afghanistan, retired General Jim Mattis knows the horrors of war firsthand.

MATTIS: You have to remember in many amphibious operation you can lose the whole force. These were militaries that had no misunderstanding, no illusions about what they existed for. They were going to go in and defeat an enemy at the risk of their lives. And many of them paid with their lives.

TAPPER: Neither is the true cost of war lost on retired General Mark Milley, who has served in among other theaters of war Panama, Haiti, Bosnia, Herzegovina, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Somalia. Still, what our service members faced 80 years ago stands out.

MILLEY: The level of intensity, fear, the noise, the blood.

TAPPER: The retired general is back on the beaches of Normandy to observe the 80th anniversary of the Allied landings in World War II.

MILLEY: Probably 5,000 to 8,000 Germans were spread out up in these bluffs up here with machine guns, cannons, mortars. The size, scale and scope of Normandy is unbelievable. We can't replicate that nor do we want to.

TAPPER: Yet with the world tilting toward anti-democracy forces, is another world war possible in our lifetime?

Do you see any scenarios where the U.S. and NATO could be involved in another great powers war?

KELLY: Sure. I mean, if someone attacked a NATO country, we have a commitment. The concept of Article Five, an attack on one is an attack on all. It's only been activated once. And that was when we were attacked on 9/11. If someone was to attack a NATO country, the Baltics, Finland, any NATO country, we are committed to helping them.

TAPPER: What if NATO's Article Five fails to deter Russian President Putin?

KELLY: I hope he never think that because of messages he's reading out of Washington, whether from the last president, the current president, going forward, whoever wins, I hope he's not misinterpreting America's commitment to NATO because if he does do something unimaginable and attacks a NATO country, that would not be a small war.

TAPPER: That's what these veterans who risked their lives fighting against tyranny are afraid of.

MULLINS: If Ukraine falls he'll go to another country. He's foreign Hitler. Just what he did. He picked them off one at a time.

FLETCHER: I don't think we'll ever see one like World War II. The thing I do worry about is technology. Much of our military is controlled by a satellite. China and Russia can shoot them down.


TAPPER: You've spoken to a lot of D-Day veterans over the years. Their numbers obviously are sadly dwindling. You tell one particular emotional story about a veteran paratroopers when you asked him about lessons he learned. Could you tell us such story? MILLEY: I kneel down next to him, and I said, so what's your greatest

lesson from World War II, and I expected that he would give me some sort of tactical lesson like shoot low and, you know, keep your three- second rushes and, you know, have a whole bag of hand grenades with you or something like that. But he looked at me and he teared up and he said, General, never let it happen again.

And I think that's that entire generation, right? And my father said that a million times. And the veterans who survived those wars. We can't fully appreciate it today, Jake, the level of suffering and sacrifice that they went through.

TAPPER (voice-over): Yet these D-Day veterans, most of them now in their late 90s, have a surprising zest for life.

LARSON: Somebody upstairs loves me. I am the luckiest man in the world.

TAPPER: U.S. Army veteran Jake Larson nicknamed Papa Jake.

LARSON: Hey, TikTok fans.

TAPPER: -- is a 101-year-old TikTok star.

LARSON: I got happy tears.

TAPPER: And he appears to be reverse-aging.

LARSON: Look at me. This is plain crazy that I don't have aches or pains. I weigh 120 pounds. My buddies call me bony ass. I made it. I made it. Every person that I was in the service with is gone. I outlived everyone. How is that possible?

STEITZ: Winning and losing.

TAPPER: Former army corporal George Steitz is equally mystified as to how he's made it this far.

STEITZ: I am the oldest coach in the world.

TAPPER: After his harrowing 30 months stint in the war, Steitz settled in Rochester, New York.

STEITZ: If your kids want to tell you something, you listen.

TAPPER: And devoted his life to teaching and coaching.

STEITZ: If people say, why did you say 50 years, I said because I loved it.

FLETCHER: I was just barely 17 years old, and weighed 112 pounds, if you believe that.

TAPPER: D-Day vet Tolley Fletcher served as a Navy gunners made and later hunted down German U-Boats.

FLETCHER: The Sub Chaser 1301.

TAPPER: After the war, fletcher worked in construction eventually landing back home near Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

FLETCHER: And I don't smoke and I don't drink. It's been a long time since I chased a woman.

TAPPER: He built his own house where he still lives with his two dogs fittingly named rusty and bullet.

MULLINS: I love shipment cross ball. I was always a boy of adventure, still am.

TAPPER: George Mullins, a country boy from Kentucky turned all American glider pilot, came home a war hero and penned a book about the day-to-day brutalities of war.

MULLINS: Any combat is nothing but hell on earth. I'm lucky to be here.

TAPPER: As their numbers dwindle, the stories of these remaining veterans are more important than ever.

Do you ever worry that the sacrifices made by the men who stormed the beaches at Normandy, that maybe ultimately, there'll be for naught? That ultimately this experiment will fail?

MATTIS: Anyone who bets against America has taken a bad bet as the bottom line. But that means that democracy, which is not a spectator sport needs all of us to roll up our sleeves and be better citizens of this republic. It's a sense of responsibility for this experiment and its survival.

None of what our service members fought for and fight for is a given. The American experiment, democracy of buying and for the people is an experiment. It has not been proven.

Francis Scott Key's "Star Spangled Banner" is a question. O say, can you see by the dawn's early light, our flag? Have we seen proof through the night that our flag was still there? O say, does that star-spangled banner yet wave over the land of the free and the home of the brave? Does it? How about around the world?

We owe the D-Day generation so much. Are we rising to the challenge?

MILLEY: It will take all of us collectively to lean forward, put our shoulder at the wheel to make sure that we don't have a great power war. Never let it happen again.