Return to Transcripts main page


NATO Military Chief Remembers D-Day; Imagine a World

Aired June 6, 2014 - 14:00:00   ET


CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN HOST: Good evening, everyone, and welcome to the program. I'm Christiane Amanpour, reporting live from Normandy, where

today just behind me on Sword Beach, the site of international celebrations to remember the 70th anniversary of those landings.

We have seen so many haunting sounds and pictures today as leaders gathered here from around the world to remember the veterans who had given

so much on D-Day 70 years ago. The French President Francois Hollande began the day by remembering the sacrifice of those soldiers and of the

citizens who were lost on this longest day.

FRANCOIS HOLLANDE, PRESIDENT OF FRANCE (through translator): We have a duty of memory, yes, for the victims, all the victims, military and

civilian, Allied and also here the German victims of the Nazis.

AMANPOUR (voice-over): Then U.S. President Barack Obama stood on hallowed ground at the American Cemetery in Colleville-sur-Mer. It's right

above Omaha Beach, known as Bloody Omaha for the number of Americans who were killed and who were wounded and who went missing in the first wave

that day.

He addressed the surviving veterans, the great generation that is now slipping away.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I am honored to return here today to pay tribute to the men and women of a generation who defied

every danger. Among them are veterans of D-Day. And gentlemen, we are truly humbled by your presence here today.


AMANPOUR (voice-over): And President Obama called this tiny sliver of sand democracy's beachhead. President Hollande remembered the 20-year

olds who kept on advancing through the carnage on this beach that day to liberate this continent one meter at a time, he said.

And yet this anniversary also serves as a cautionary tale for us today. During the celebrations here on Sword Beach, French television made

this cheeky decision to split the huge screen behind me between Presidents Obama and Putin, who are, of course, at loggerheads over Ukraine. And yet

this shot of German Chancellor Merkel and Putin along with Petro Poroshenko, the president-elect of Ukraine, has inspired some hope for the

possible start of a resolution to this conflict.

So could the memory of war guide these leaders to a peaceful resolution? Who better to ask than General Philip Breedlove. He's NATO's

Supreme Allied Commander and he joined me right here at Sword Beach.


AMANPOUR: General Breedlove, welcome to the program.


AMANPOUR: This is an incredible day, so much sacrifice by Americans 70 years ago and all the Allies.

Just as a military commander, what does this mean to you?

BREEDLOVE: Well, it's incredible. Think of the decision first of all that the commanders had to make to send this mass of young men ashore.

Think of that decision. Conditions weren't perfect. They sent them in anyway and they knew what they were going to face. It's just an absolute -

- I can't think of it in today's world, to send over 100,000 troops ashore into a hellish battle that they knew they would face.

AMANPOUR: And as President Hollande said, these are young boys, mostly around 20 years old, who advanced and advanced and kept advancing

even over bodies of their dead comrades through the withering suppressing fire from the Nazis.

BREEDLOVE: It's amazing. And you know, we've heard over and over, it's about being there for my buddy next to me, to my left and my right,

and not letting my unit down and keep moving forward. Courage is just incredible.

AMANPOUR: Now let me ask you, because you're having to deal with a very real crisis in Europe all these 70 years later: Eastern Ukraine.

How dangerous is it today? Haven't these Russians pulled back any significant number of forces since we last talked?

BREEDLOVE: Yes, they have, Christiane. I would say the majority of the forces on the Russian side of the Ukraine border have pulled back. We

still see a couple of units there and we haven't seen them really preparing to leave. So we'll be watching them over the next few days.

But what has not changed is Russian influence inside of Ukraine. Russian irregular forces, Russia back forces, Russian financing, all very,

very active inside Eastern Ukraine.

AMANPOUR: Now President Obama, Chancellor Merkel, all the world leaders have said that President Putin who's here must stop the flow of

fighters and arms into Eastern Ukraine.

BREEDLOVE: I couldn't agree more. Couldn't agree more.

AMANPOUR: And it's really happening?

BREEDLOVE: It has to stop.

AMANPOUR: And how destabilizing is it?

BREEDLOVE: Well, first of all, this is a government that has just been elected. It's a country really trying to figure out how to grasp what

is going on in the eastern region. And these forces are very organized and they're very well financed. And that's tough for this government to take

on right now.

AMANPOUR: And they've also suffered alarming significant setbacks, these Russian separatist forces or pro-Russians have taken a security base;

they've taken government buildings, have taken a border guard post. I mean, they -- are the Ukrainians up to this?

BREEDLOVE: Well, first of all, let's remember that the majority of Ukraine in the east is very settled and trying to figure out how to grasp

this. So it's very much concentrated in the east. And there are pockets in the east where this is not happening. But clearly in the areas where

you see the violence every day, this is a big problem.

And I have faith in the government to begin to work on it. You can see their determination already.

AMANPOUR: Analysts now say that it doesn't look like President Putin is going to invade or annex like he did in Crimea, but they ask whether

Europe and the wider region could be dragged into a war and whether this could spill over.

How close is Eastern Ukraine, those hot spots, to falling into full- scale war?

BREEDLOVE: Well, you've heard some describe it as a civil war. Clearly there is very intense conflict going on there. But again, I think

that we're seeing a government very determined under the new president. And I think they'll be able to address this.



AMANPOUR: There's some optimism that President Putin has met President-Elect Poroshenko and they've decided to talk about a cease-fire

or how to negotiate a cease-fire.

Are you hearing that?

BREEDLOVE: I have not. But I did see -- hear today was President Poroshenko talking to Minister Lavrov here in the stands while we were

there. And of course dialogue can't hurt at this point. We have to find a way forward.

AMANPOUR: As stature, as head of NATO, how do answer staunch allies like Poland, who complain that they've haven't yet -- they don't feel seen

enough, you know, NATO troops in their land. I know President Obama pledged $1 billion, pledged more training, pledged a lot of other things.

Is it time to reassess when NATO is based in Europe as the Polish foreign minister said to me, there's still a Cold War mandate?

BREEDLOVE: Sure. Christiane, let me maybe change the way you answer that. What I do see in the three Baltic nations and in Poland is a great

acceptance of how the U.S. first and now NATO has reacted into those nations, very quick response with air policing, good response on the sea

and our maritime forces. And now after this week's ministerials in Brussels, good pledges for land responses into these nations.

So I think all the nations are happy with the immediate measures we have taken. I think what you're hearing is the discussions about long-term

presence and what will happen in the future.

And as I've said I think even to you before, this has to remain on the table. We will not enter a period leading into the summit in September

where we will discuss do we change the readiness of our forces? Do we change the responsiveness of our forces and do we change the position of

our forces and our nation's leaders will meet in September to take decisions on that.

AMANPOUR: You are NATO commander, NATO troops are in Afghanistan. President Obama made a speech in which he announced that all troops would

be out by 2016, but a certain residual force would stay until then.

Has the war been won? Is it safe to pull all troops out, having seen what happened in Iraq when all troops were pulled out?

BREEDLOVE: It's a fair question. I think what is very clear is that the NATO force over the last 12 years have given Afghanistan the chance to

make their own determination. The future of Afghanistan is now in Afghan hands. The NSF is a very good force --


BREEDLOVE: -- you bet. Afghan forces are good forces. You saw how well they did in the elections. And I expect they'll do every bit as well

in this next election. What we need to do now is connect that ministry level support to the military, because I believe the military is where we

need it to be.

Clearly you know and I know there's some things they have to work on, the intelligence, aviation, some of these things. And those are hard and

we'll work on those --


AMANPOUR: You don't foresee an Iraq scenario, where all troops are out and the place practically implodes again?

BREEDLOVE: We can't predict the future. But what we do know is they have the opportunity now and they have the capability and their future is

truly in their hands.

AMANPOUR: The Afghan government, whoever becomes the next president, they're all pretty angry that these five Taliban have been swapped for Sgt.

Bowe Bergdahl.

How dangerous to the battle are these five Taliban? Because everybody expects that once they've had a little bit of supervision from Qatar,

they'll go back to the battlefield.

BREEDLOVE: Well, that would be a bad outcome. And I would not want to guess whether that will happen or not.

AMANPOUR: But if it does happen --

BREEDLOVE: Any fighters that return to the battlefield is a bad --

AMANPOUR: How significant are they in terms of commanders?

BREEDLOVE: I don't know, Christiane. They've been out of the fight for over five years, some of them for longer. So I really couldn't make a

judgment on that.

I think what we hope to see is that they don't return to the fighting.

AMANPOUR: Is Mullah Omar still active? This negotiation to get these Taliban back, he came out of the woodwork and praised it.

Is he still active?

BREEDLOVE: I don't know. I really can't answer that question. I wasn't involved in that process.

AMANPOUR: Let me ask you about Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, who falls under your command after all. There's so much controversy about it.

Will he face a disciplinary hearing?

BREEDLOVE: Well, let's talk about first things first.

First of all, the Army has given all of our forces a great culture and that culture is no soldier left behind. So no soldier, no sailor, airman

nor Marine we leave behind. So Sgt. Bergdahl is a sergeant in the United States Army and we're happy to have him back in America.

I won't comment on the process, but it's good to have him back in our hands.

What we need to do now is focus on his well-being.

AMANPOUR: How is he? Can you tell us? He's being debriefed. What is his state of mind? What is he saying to you?

BREEDLOVE: OK, I wouldn't say he's actually being debriefed yet. What we're concentrating on right now is his health. He has been in a very

tough place for a long time. Landstuhl Medical Center is the perfect place for this. It is the best place in the world to do it. That's what we're

focused on --

AMANPOUR: Can you tell me about his health?

BREEDLOVE: I don't think that's really appropriate. That's something between he (sic) and his doctors and his family.

AMANPOUR: General Breedlove, thank you very much indeed for joining me.

BREEDLOVE: Thank you very much. Good to see you again.

AMANPOUR: You, too.

So not many answers on the controversial case of Sgt. Bergdahl. But President Obama did link today's soldiers, those who have gone to

Afghanistan and Iraq, all the military men and women, to the sacrifices that those men gave here 70 years ago.

And now we look at some of the powerful pictures from today.

As dawn broke over Northern France this morning, the first landing craft arrived on the beaches of Arromanches to reenact the momentous

mission 70 years ago.

Later in the day, a 21-gun salute to honor those who died and then the eyes of the world leaders looked up to the sky.

French Air Force jets flying the Missing Man formation to honor (INAUDIBLE).


AMANPOUR (voice-over): And when we come back, we go beneath the streets of London to an underground bunker, where Winston Churchill, safe

from the German bombs during the blitz, planned and guided Allied military strategy throughout the war.




UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (voice-over): Driving a truck, doing her bit in the war, a 19-year-old girl who one day is to be queen.

AMANPOUR (voice-over): Princess Elizabeth, just seven years later she was indeed crowned queen of England, now aged 88, she's guest of honor at

the D-Day commemorations in France, because she's the only head of state to actually serve during the war.


AMANPOUR: And 10 days after D-Day on June 16th, 1944, her father, King George VI, visited he British Army on the beaches of Normandy here.

He had worked closely on the D-Day landings with Prime Minister Winston Churchill in a war room deep beneath the streets of London. And this week

I visited that underground bunker, still intact to this day.

I was joined by the historian, Taylor Downing.


TAYLOR DOWNING, HISTORIAN: So we're in the Cabinet Room itself, in the Churchill War Rooms, which were built just before the Second World War,

intended to be a sort of underground bunker, really.

AMANPOUR: And still so atmospheric. I mean, look, Churchill's cigar.

Was that really his? I don't know, but the cigar is there, the dispatch box. And this was his chair.

DOWNING: This was the chair. It's as though his -- the Cabinet had just left, they've just walked out the door. They sort of kept the place

with this very, very atmospheric feel.

The location was of course top secret at the time. It was built to withstand

bombings so that the whole government could carry on. Down here there are all the key offices that were needed: the military headquarters, the Map

Room. There was accommodation for senior staff. Churchill had his own bedroom down here.

AMANPOUR: Taylor, this obviously hasn't changed much since those days. It's still dark.

DOWNING: It's very atmospheric under here. And what you've got to imagine is that this is below ground; nobody down here knows what's

happening up above. they had a big ventilation plant they brought in to try and pump air around, but it would have been very stuffy, very hot. And

everybody puffing away.

When the Prime Minister himself is a great cigar smoker, he's not going to stop smoking, so you can't tell anybody else they can't smoke.

So we're coming here into the Map Room, which was really the heart of the operation at this underground War Rooms, this underground bunker.

And this is a reconstruction as it would have been at the end of the war. Somebody from the RAF, somebody from the Army-

AMANPOUR: Looks a bit surprised to see us.


AMANPOUR: He's incredibly lifelike.

DOWNING: It is, very. It's as though we've interrupted a rather important meeting.

AMANPOUR: And there were unbelievably important meetings.

DOWNING: They were. This is where -- Churchill, although he was a great wordsmith and we remember him for the great words and the phrases and

the --

AMANPOUR: And the inspiration.

DOWNING: -- and the inspiration to the people of Britain and the whole free world at the time, he actually had a very visual way of

understanding things. He liked maps, he liked charts. He liked anything that gave him a sort of visual display of what was going on.

A version of the Map Room was sort of packed up and taken with him so that, wherever he was, he could have this sort of update of what was going

on in the war.

AMANPOUR: And he wanted to be in Normandy on D-Day.

DOWNING: He did. He was actually in this very room on the 1st of June getting a briefing with the king, who was also --


AMANPOUR: The king came down here?

DOWNING: The king was down here on this day as well, George VI. And they were having a briefing about what was going to happen on D-Day.

And Churchill says, you know, I really want to be there on D-Day myself. You can imagine the sort of, "My God, the Prime Minister wants to

be in the front line of a huge operation like D-Day?"

And so he asked if he could go on HMS Belfast, which was the flagship of the Royal Naval Commander, to watch the landings happen.

Now, he's the prime minister. No other politician can overrule him.

He's the commander of the forces, so the military can't say, "We don't want you here, sir."

And what happens in the end is that the king, a day afterwards, writes to him and says, "Winston, I don't think it's a good idea for you to go to

D-Day. What happens if the ship hits a mine or is shelled by the Germans and sinks? The last thing we want to do at a critical moment in the war is

to lose our prime minister."

So effectively what happens is that, reluctantly, Churchill stands down and the king, for the first time, tells his prime minister you can't

do something.

AMANPOUR: Which is an interesting constitutional turnaround.

DOWNING: It's a very rare turnaround, isn't it?

AMANPOUR: This is a really rare permission to come into this room. I don't think anybody gets to see this inside and here we are with Churchill

on the phone with --

DOWNING: With Churchill. He's on the phone to Roosevelt.

This is the -- this is the room in which he had the top secret direct line to the White House. And, in fact, it was -- the outside had a door

just like a private loo, a W.C. And even his staff thought he was going to the loo. He would come in here, get on the phone to Roosevelt, and then

emerge afterwards.

So it was so secret, this hotline --

AMANPOUR: That even people in this secret bunker didn't know that this was where the Prime Minister and the president spoke.

DOWNING: Didn't know this existed. Didn't know that this room existed.

And it was where he helped build up the relationship and bond and talk with the president, and it was a really important -- tiny, tiny but really

important space.

The country was in a sense very lucky, in 1940, when Churchill was appointed Prime Minister; through those dark days of 1940, France

surrenders, the blitz, when Britain really was back up against the wall, to have a man who not only understood military things but gave a huge

encouragement to new ideas, new technologies.

He really galvanized Britain's fairly feeble, at times, military efforts. He was the right leader in the right place at the right time, and

we're very lucky for that today.

AMANPOUR: What would have happened if it hadn't been him?

DOWNING: Difficult to see that we would have fought on. Probably what would have happened was some sort of truce with Hitler in the summer

of 1940. And history would have been very, very different.

AMANPOUR: The veterans. How many do you think survived today?

DOWNING: Well, it's said that in 1994, for the 50th anniversary, there were 20,000 on the Normandy beaches, who went there to be part of

that 50th anniversary.

But I think they're the real heroes. I mean, here we've been looking at where the strategic planning took place, where the thinking through --

obviously there was Eisenhower's headquarters down on the South Coast, where the specific military planning took place as well.

But, in the end, a great operation like this is down to the men who come out of the landing craft first, who jump from aircraft. They're the

real heroes of D-Day.

AMANPOUR: Did they think they were?

DOWNING: No, not at all. I've met lots of these guys and they are the humblest people.

What they tell you is that it was a job that had to be done; they had to do it. And, for instance, Captain Dick Winters, the famous man who was

at the center of "Band of Brothers;" Damian Lewis plays him in the Steven Spielberg miniseries of the name.

You asked him, "Were you a hero?"

And he says, "No." He says, "But I served with a company of heroes."

And that's very typical of the spirit of that generation. There's no sort of me, me, me about it. It was a job that had to be done and we went

out there and we did it.

And you have to admire that humility and that spirit.

AMANPOUR: You do indeed.


AMANPOUR: And crucial to the invasion plans was the need to alert the French Resistance. BBC broadcasts, called Radio Londres by the French,

filled the airwaves with the first four notes of Beethoven's 5th Symphony, the dot-dot-dot-dash of the Morse code for V for victory. It was followed

by many coded messages like "Jean has a long mustache." And then just before D-Day, there came some lines of French poetry.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Les sanglots longs Des violons De l'automne Blessent mon cour D'une langueur Monotone.

AMANPOUR (voice-over): "Wound my heart with a monotonous languor." That was the message that told the Resistance the Allies were coming.

After a break, imagine a Hollywood film about the battle -- no, not "Saving Private Ryan," but it's precursor real film that was shot right

here while the battle was raging, cinema verite, when we return.




AMANPOUR: And finally tonight, once upon a time when people were sent off to war, those left behind could only wait and worry and wonder. So

imagine a world where war started to come home in pictures and with words. Standing here on a Normandy beach, celebrated in such Hollywood epics as

"The Longest Day" and "Saving Private Ryan," it might be easy to forget that the outcome of that day, June 6th, 1944, was by no means certain. The

final act was unwritten.

Who knew what would happen to the more than 100,000 people who landed here and so many of whom were killed?


AMANPOUR (voice-over): But Hollywood was also represented that fateful day, not to make a work of fiction, but to record this turning

point in history.

In fact, two of the world's great film directors, John Ford for the Navy and George Stevens for the Army, marshaled legions of cameramen to

capture the assault as it happened. And though almost all the cameramen survived, most of the footage did not. This remarkable color film taken by

George Stevens and his crew is a rare exception.

The world's greatest war photographer, Robert Capa, was also there. And he and his camera made it through the battle only to then lose all but

11 frames of film in a developing room accident, making the few survivors even more iconic.

Fortunately, where pictures failed, words carried the day and what words. The future Nobel laureate, Ernest Hemingway, was among the

journalists who hit the beach that day, armed with fountain pens and typewriters. And he wasn't alone.

His wife and fellow correspondent, Martha Gellhorn, stowed away on a hospital ship, locked herself in a toilet and became the first woman to

report on the invasion.


AMANPOUR: Thanks to her and others, the story of D-Day made it back home, even though so many brave people would not. For them, there would be

no headlines, only rows of headstones that still record their courage and their sacrifice.

And that's it for our special program tonight live from Sword Beach here in Normandy, France. Today, of course, was all about unity, the unity

of Europe in the decades since that incredible day and perhaps nothing epitomizes that more than this hug between two veterans today, one French

and one German, who flew for the Luftwaffe.

Remember you can always contact us at our website,, and follow me on Twitter and Facebook. Thanks for watching and goodbye from