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Stream contributor Eric Metaxas has a provocative new book out this week, If You Can Keep It, which explores the forgotten connections between faith-based virtues and the survival of freedom in America. Are Americans virtuous enough to keep up a free society? Or are we headed into a new age where self-interested, short-sighted citizens are so caught up in their habits that they allow, or even require, an omnicompetent State to run their lives for them? I asked Eric, an old friend, to share his insights….

John: This current election is deeply dissatisfying to many Christian voters. How would you answer those who see Hillary Clinton as a grave threat, but fear that Trump lacks the virtue (much less the religion) to lead a free people? Even if he’s the lesser of two evils, is his rise a symptom of our fading virtue and faith?

Eric: Yes, Donald Trump’s rise is certainly a symptom of our fading virtue and faith, but ironically he may well be our only hope for finding our way back to bolder expressions of them. The eerie waxworks automaton formerly known as Hillary Rodham Clinton will no doubt double down on President Obama’s two-term repulsion to Constitutional government, in which unutterably sad case we simply wouldn’t ever be able to claw our way back up the abyss into which we shall have been thrust. If two more anti-Constitutionalist judges are shoehorned onto the Supreme Court we will have a Constitutional crisis — actually a cataclysm — in which the last Justices of that hoary institution will take that thing once described by a Constitutionalist Executive as the “government of the people, by the people, for the people” and place it into a coffin gaily decorated with smiley face and rainbow stickers.

John: Is there any alternative to fighting the “culture wars” politically, even though we seem to be losing? Could we opt out and try to exist in tolerated enclaves, as the “Benedict Option” envisions?

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June 12, 2016

It happened again.

In the dark hours of this Sunday morning some 50 people were killed and another 53 were injured in a terror attack in gay nightclub in Orlando. President Obama has called it an “act of terror and an act of hate,” and it’s being described as the most deadly shooting in American history.

The news of such violent atrocities comes to us so regularly nowadays that we may feel numb, helpless to know what to do or say after such events. But as followers of Christ we can’t simply shut out the pain and despair. We must bring light and healing.

These horrible events of recent years have targeted a wide variety of people: military personnel, movie-goers, elementary school children, and now patrons of a gay nightclub. All have dignity as made in the image of God. The death of any leads to mourning, whether they were targeted at random or not.

Over the years several writers for TGC have provided wise guidance on how to respond. These five calls to action apply to the most recent in a strring of tragedies.

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Pray

No matter how frequently such tragedies occur, our first response should always be the same: turning to God in prayer. After the Newtown, Connecticut, shooting in 2012, Scotty Smith provided a model for how to pray in the midst of pain:

Dear Lord Jesus, we abandon ourselves to you tonight—we come running with our tears and our fears, our anger and our anguish, our lament and our longings. We collapse in your presence, with the assurance of your welcome, needing the mercies of your heart.

Some stories are just too much for us to absorb; some evil just too great to conceive; some losses beyond all measurability. We need your tears and your strength tonight. That you wept outside the tomb of a beloved friend frees us to groan and mourn; that you conquered his death with yours, frees us to hope and wait.

But we turn our thoughts from ourselves to the families who have suffered an unconscionable violation of heart and all sensibilities. Bring your presence to bear, Lord Jesus, by your Spirit and through your people. May your servants weep with those who weep and wail with those who wail. Extend your tear wiping hand—reach into this great tragedy with an even greater grace.

Pause

In the wake of mass violence, a common pattern is emerging among tech-literate, socially connected Christians. Rather than hearing the news and turning to God, we turn first to social media.

If we wanted to learn the facts about the incident we would look to news agencies. Too often, though, we’re actually looking to revel in the partisan divide. Even without looking we know the various angles that will be played out (e.g., gun control, the violence of Islam) and want to jump into the fray to join our “team.”

“Perhaps due to the callousness of our hearts or the fact that mass shootings have become common,” Trevin Wax wrote after the Umpqua Community College shooting last October, “we now rush to the computer to vent our frustrations rather than turn to God and to each other to express our grief.”

I understand how the feeling of helplessness intensifies the desire to just do something—to promote some person or push some policy. Make a statement. Pass a bill. Do whatever it takes to help us at least feel like we’re making progress in preventing these senseless horrors.

What troubles me is not that these tragedies lead to advocacy for policy change, but that our country’s imagination is held captive to the idea that the only place where such change can take place is in the legislature or courthouse.

On days like this we may need to guard our heart (Prov. 4:23) by avoiding social media altogether. Out of consideration for those who are suffering and in pain we can refrain from engaging in the polemics and adding to the din of divisiveness. Instead of tweeting and posting, we should seek to take practical actions, such as donating blood. (Even if we don’t live in the Orlando area, this event can remind us that daily tragedies occur and blood donations are always needed in your community.)

Grieve

As Christians we are called to weep with those who weep (Rom. 12:15). Yet in times of tragedy we may be tempted instead to try to explain and justify rather than to simply be silent and grieve with those who are grieving. As Trillia Newbell has written,

When your friend is weeping it’s hard to say, “I don’t know, I don’t understand.” We want to know. We want to bring comfort, but in our attempt to “fix it” we can forget that there’s a real person in deep sorrow. Your friend, coworker, or relative is not a faucet to be fixed—they are flesh and blood to be loved. Those moments when you’re anxiously trying to find the perfect words are often the best moments to humbly embrace your weakness and lack of knowledge.

To be clear, waiting doesn’t mean never sharing perceived wisdom. Waiting might actually involve acknowledging you do understand. You understand your friend’s sorrow enough to be willing to bridle your tongue, to speak carefully and thoughtfully, to pray and wait.

Love

The death of any humans should lead to mourning, whether they were the victims or the perpetrators. As Angela Price wrote after the domestic terror attack last July,

Loving those who are different is not easy. It’s a sacrifice, but Jesus did it for us. When he came to rescue us, we were all lost in sin. We were “risky” for him, even to the point of crucifixion. Yet he entered into a world filled with filth, and willingly laid down his life in love. This is how we share Christ with those desperate for saving grace.

Hope

Christians should be the most realistic people on Earth. While we may support certain policies and solutions that we believe can foster peace, we must always be quick to admit that the root cause of violence and hate is sin.

As Erik Raymond wrote after the mall shooting in Omaha in 2007,

First and foremost an event like this is a heart-wrenching reminder of the devastatingly painful and absolutely brutal result of sin. The basic answer to the question as to why the trigger was pulled once, never mind 40 to 50 times, is a rebellion from and a hatred of God. At its must fundamental sense this tragedy is rooted in a rebellion from God. The fact that people had to die today in this mall is a testimony to the vicious recourse of sin. The Scripture is clear that the wages of sin is death (Rom. 6.23). Death is the sword of sin, it cuts deep and far, and spares none.

Such tragedies, Raymond adds, should cause us to look away from superficial hope.

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by Trevin Wax 

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Now that President Obama has issued guidelines for bathroom access in public schools across the country, many parents and schoolteachers are suddenly engaged in conversations they never anticipated. Questions about bathrooms, sports teams, locker room access, gender identity, and potential dangers are bouncing around on social media and in blog comments.

Much of the conversation focuses on student safety, not surprisingly. Safety for children in public schools should be of the utmost concern—and that includes the safety of transgender students as well.

But the latest developments have bigger repercussions that we also need to consider. We need to take a step back and look at what the White House guidelines signify about our culture.

Repercussion #1: Blazing a Political Path Toward Tyranny

First, it is striking to see the description of the president’s guidelines as “a decree” (now softened to “directive”), as well as the White House’s threat of withholding funds from schools that do not comply.

Regardless of one’s views on gender identity, no one believes that the intent of the lawmakers who passed the Civil Rights Act in the 1960s and Title IX legislation was to include gender identity as part of their protections. To apply this legislation to gender identity today, apart from Congressional approval, is to effectively rewrite the law without any kind of legislative process. It is to create a new law out of nothing and then use the president’s powers to promote it.

Even if you agree with the president’s guidelines, I urge you to consider the precedent this sets for future presidents to invent and revise new interpretations of laws and then demand compliance. The Founding Fathers put guardrails in place to keep the legislative, executive, and judicial branches from careening toward tyranny. Ever since Woodrow Wilson, those guardrails have been weakening, making it easier for a future tyrant to seize power and have historical precedent for doing so.

Repercussion #2: Co-opting the Civil Rights Narrative

The fact that “segregation” has re-entered the American vocabulary, only this time in reference to bathrooms, is astonishing. It puts gender identity and race in the same category, and then applies the story of civil rights to the societal push to embrace transgender theories. To dissent from this ideology or to question the wisdom and prudence of this revisionist understanding of the human person is to join the ranks of bigots and racists.

In her speech that connected racially segregated bathrooms to gender identity, Attorney General Loretta Lynch claimed that, in both cases, there was merely a “distinction without a difference.” In other words, the fact that a transgender female possesses male anatomy is a distinction, but not a substantive difference.

This is not a scientific statement, but an ideological vision of what male and female mean. The detachment of “sex” from “gender” will have repercussions that extend far beyond the debate over bathrooms, and because of the complexities associated with various forms of gender identity, a soft despotism will be necessary in order to enforce the new tolerance.

Repercussion #3: Promoting a New Vision of What It Means to Be Human

As Christians, we believe that gender is a gift from God and that we ought to welcome this gift (part of God’s good creation), even when it may be difficult (as a result of our fallenness). We believe that true freedom comes within our acceptance of our bodily existence, as given to us by God, and our discovery of how best to glorify God within this finite frame.

Today’s world promotes another “gospel”: believe and submit to one’s own individual desires as an act of self-definition. Another “great commission:” to increase the number of people who affirm every act of self-definition, without question. Another “hope”: to create a world of peace and joy by embracing a queer cosmology that transforms society into less binary ways of being.

The bathroom debate is heated because of what it symbolizes: a redefinition of what it means to be human.

  • What does it mean to be a mother in a world in which men can have babies?
  • To advocate for medical procedures on the body that have no relation to deeper questions of what our bodies are for?
  • To see surgeries that sterilize as the only compassionate option for people experiencing gender dysphoria?

Repercussion #4: Exploring New Options for Educating Kids 

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The President at the Prayer Breakfast

Tuesday • February 10, 2015

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Presidents of the United States are usually awful as theologians. In far too many cases, the closer they get to anything theological, the bigger the mess they make. President Obama seems rather adept at making such messes, but he is hardly the first. The only President of the United States to be baptized while in office was Dwight D. Eisenhower. In remarks made at the Freedoms Forum at the Waldorf-Astoria hotel in 1952, the recently-elected Eisenhower said: In other words, our form of government has no sense unless it is founded in a deeply felt religious faith, and I don’t care what it is.”

Of recent presidents, Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton were probably the most theologically literate, and both claimed deep roots as Southern Baptists. In his infamous Playboy interview of 1976, Carter cited Reinhold Niebuhr and Paul Tillich as influences and Clinton seemed cut from the same theological cloth. Both men have, in their own way, distanced themselves rather clearly from the theological and moral convictions held by Southern Baptists. Ronald Reagan’s evangelical faith seemed to be vague and he rarely attended church services during his eight years in office. George H. W. Bush seemed to be a very conventional mainline Protestant of the old establishment but his son, George W. Bush, may well have been the most clearly evangelical president of the modern age.

President Obama identifies openly with a very liberal version of Christian thinking and reasoning. He cites religious concerns from time to time, but he seems to operate more as a secular cosmopolitan. When he does address religious thoughts openly, as at the National Prayer Breakfast last week, he made a considerable mess.

That he holds to a universalistic understanding of religion is not in doubt. President Obama spoke of faith, of his own “faith journey,” and “professions of faith.” The common denominator in his thinking seems to be faith as an act without any concern for the content or object of that faith. Thus, “part of what I want to touch on today is the degree to which we’ve seen professions of faith used both as an instrument of great good, but also twisted and misused in the name of evil.”

When people do evil in the name of faith, the President asserted, it is because the faith has been perverted or distorted. Any faith can be perverted in this way, Mr. Obama said, and no religion is inherently violent. In his words: “Our job is not to ask that God respond to our notion of truth — our job is to be true to Him, His word, and His commandments.  And we should assume humbly that we’re confused and don’t always know what we’re doing and we’re staggering and stumbling towards Him, and have some humility in that process.  And that means we have to speak up against those who would misuse His name to justify oppression, or violence, or hatred with that fierce certainty.  No God condones terror.  No grievance justifies the taking of innocent lives, or the oppression of those who are weaker or fewer in number.”

The fact remains that Western civilization — and much of the world beyond — is directly threatened by a militant form of Islam that has the allegiance of millions of Muslims. While the vast majority of Muslims in the world are not fighters in a jihad against the West, and for that we must be thankful, the fact remains that the President’s own national security authorities directly disagree with the President when he recently said that “99.9 percent” of Muslims do not back Islamic terrorism.

On Islam, President Obama is not the first to sow confusion on the issue. In the aftermath of the terror attacks of September 11, 2001, President George W. Bush argued over and over again that America is not at war with Islam. We can understand why a president would say this, and we also need to admit that there is an important element of truth in the statement.

The West is not at war with Islam if that means a war against all Muslims and against all forms of Islam. But, true as that statement may be, we must also be clear that we are facing a great and grave civilizational challenge from millions of Muslims who believe, quite plausibly, that their version of Islam is more faithful to the essence of Islam and the Quran. This understanding of Islam is growing, not receding. It is now drawing thousands of young Muslims from both Europe and North America to join the jihad. We have seen the hopes of a moderating Arab Spring dashed and we have seen the rise of even more brutal and deadly forms of jihad in groups such as the Islamic State. Clearly, there are millions of Muslims who do believe that God condones terror. They celebrate the fact that Muhammad was a warrior, and they understand that it is their responsibility as faithful Muslims to bring the entire world under the rule of Sharia law. Their actions are driven by a theological logic that has roots in the Quran, in the founding of Islam, and in the history of Islamic conquest.

And yet, at virtually every turn, President Obama and his administration remain determined not to mention Islam in any negative light, and even to redefine some acts of terror committed in the name of Islam as “workplace violence.” His refusal to acknowledge the worldview of those who declare themselves to be our enemies is neither intellectually honest nor safe. It is a theological disaster, but it is a foreign policy disaster as well.

In the most controversial portion of his address, President Obama said:

“And lest we get on our high horse and think this is unique to some other place, remember that during the Crusades and the Inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ.  In our home country, slavery and Jim Crow all too often was justified in the name of Christ.”

President Obama would not mention Islam by name, but he did bring judgment on the Christian past, with specific reference to the Crusades. At that point a good measure of Christian humility and honesty are called for. The centuries of the Crusades were a brutal epoch in which horrible things were done, often in the name of Christ. The union of medieval Catholicism and the power of kings was disastrous, and there are lasting stains on the Christian conscience from this era. The same is true of the era of slavery and Jim Crow laws in the United States.

But honesty is hard to come by when it comes to distant history, and that is why we should be rigorously critical when it comes to the very real and horrifying reality that terrible acts have been perpetrated in the name of Christianity. At the same time, historical honesty and humility demands that we acknowledge that in the age of armed conflict between Christian kingdoms (as they claimed to be) and Muslim armies, even the stoutest secular critics of Christianity must recognize that our current age would be very different if Muslim armies had won, for example, when the forces of the Ottoman Empire were stopped at the gates of Vienna in 1683. All those professors of gender studies and post-colonial literature in European universities might well be professors of the Quran, instead.

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Wednesday • November 26, 2014

by Dr. R. Albert Mohler Jr.

Jury boxPhoto by Jason Doiy2-9-11054-2011

This is an edited transcript of The Briefing podcast from early Tuesday morning, November 25, 2014, hours after the Ferguson, Missouri grand jury announcement.

The grand jury decision Americans were waiting for came Monday night in the suburbs of St. Louis, Missouri. As the Washington Post reports,

“A grand jury on Monday declined to indict police officer Darren Wilson in the fatal shooting of an unarmed black teenager, resolving a secretive, months-long legal saga and reigniting powerful frustrations about America’s policing of African Americans.”

The lead article on the issue in the New York Times offered a similar view of the facts:

“A St. Louis County grand jury has brought no criminal charges against Darren Wilson, a white police officer who fatally shot Michael Brown, an unarmed African-American teenager, more than three months ago in nearby Ferguson.”

The reporters, Monica Davey and Julie Bosman, go on to say,

“The decision by the grand jury of nine whites and three blacks was announced Monday night by the St. Louis County prosecutor, Robert P. McCulloch, at a news conference packed with reporters from around the world. The killing, on a residential street in Ferguson, set off weeks of civil unrest — and a national debate — fueled by protesters’ outrage over what they called a pattern of police brutality against young black men. Mr. McCulloch said Officer Wilson had faced charges ranging from first-degree murder to involuntary manslaughter.”

But as the news reports uniformly indicate, the grand jury found no probable cause to bring an indictment on any one of these crimes against Officer Wilson.

For the most part, the announcement is exactly what legal analysts expected. It is very difficult to bring a charge against a police officer who was involved in this kind of shooting in the line of duty. In almost any jurisdiction, this kind of police shooting would have led to an internal affairs investigation—not to a grand jury consideration. But the political stakes in Ferguson, Missouri were always high—especially after the images of the body of Michael Brown on the ground on a residential street in that city spread throughout St. Louis and the world.

As big a story as the announcement from the grand jury was in itself, the aftermath has become an even larger story, and exactly the kind of larger story that was feared. For what happened in the aftermath of the announcement from the grand jury was an outbreak of violent protests that set at least some parts of the neighborhood of Ferguson, Missouri on fire.

Furthermore, the protests in the St. Louis area turned violent with police reporting widespread automatic gunfire in the city. Americans saw a constant video stream of arsonist protesters and looters rampaging through some St. Louis neighborhoods. As the night wore on, the Federal Aviation Administration stopped all incoming flights into St. Louis’ major airports, citing automatic gunfire in the immediate area of the airport as the cause. As the evening wore on, protest spread to other major American cities as well. In the aftermath of the grand jury’s announcement, the family of Michael Brown, including his parents, called for protests to be peaceful, but their own admonition was not heeded.

Furthermore, as the evening continued, President Obama spoke to the nation from the White House about the decision of the grand jury in Ferguson, Missouri. Christians trying to understand what is at stake in this very sad spectacle should pay particular attention to President Obama’s comments. The president stated,

“As you know, a few moments ago, the grand jury deliberating the death of Michael Brown issued its decision. It’s an outcome that, either way, was going to be subject of intense disagreement not only in Ferguson, but across America. So I want to just say a few words suggesting how we might move forward.”

In one of his most important public statements to date, President Obama continued saying,

“First and foremost, we are a nation built on the rule of law. And so we need to accept that this decision was the grand jury’s to make. There are Americans who agree with it, and there are Americans who are deeply disappointed, even angry. It’s an understandable reaction. But I join Michael’s parents in asking anyone who protests this decision to do so peacefully. Let me repeat Michael’s father’s words: ‘Hurting others or destroying property is not the answer. No matter what the grand jury decides, I do not want my son’s death to be in vain. I want it to lead to incredible change, positive change, change that makes the St. Louis region better for everyone.’  Michael Brown’s parents have lost more than anyone. We should be honoring their wishes.”

As the president continued his remarks, he turned to address law enforcement officials saying,

“I also appeal to the law enforcement officials in Ferguson and the region to show care and restraint in managing peaceful protests that may occur. Understand, our police officers put their lives on the line for us every single day. They’ve got a tough job to do to maintain public safety and hold accountable those who break the law. As they do their jobs in the coming days, they need to work with the community, not against the community, to distinguish the handful of people who may use the grand jury’s decision as an excuse for violence—distinguish them from the vast majority who just want their voices heard around legitimate issues in terms of how communities and law enforcement interact.”

Finally, the president said,

“We need to recognize that the situation in Ferguson speaks to broader challenges that we still face as a nation.”

The president’s comments were restrained and responsible. As a matter of fact, it’s hard to imagine a more suitable and responsible set of comments for a president to make—much less the nation’s first elected African-American president.

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The Hobby Lobby Decision: A Big Win for Religious Liberty — and a Very Revealing Divide on the Court

MONDAY • June 30, 2014

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Today’s decision in theHobby Lobby case represents a huge win for religious liberty in America, and the 5-4 decision will now stand as a landmark case that will reshape the religious liberty debate for generations to come. At the same time, the deeply divided court also revealed in startling clarity its own internal debates over religious liberty — and that division of understanding at the nation’s highest court is very disturbing indeed.

Writing for the majority, Justice Samuel Alito declared that the Obama Administration had profoundly failed to meet the demands of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act [RFRA] and, more importantly, the demands of the U. S. Constitution. By mandating that corporations provide all forms of contraception or birth control for all female employees at no cost, the government had burdened the consciences of the Christian owners of Hobby Lobby, Mardel, and Conestoga Wood, the three corporations involved in the decision.

The Court restricted its decision to “closely held” private corporations. Hobby Lobby and Mardel are owned and operated by the family of David Green, who with his wife Barbara, began the company in their own home. Though much smaller than Hobby Lobby, Conestoga Wood is also a privately held corporation. The Green family is a bulwark of evangelical Christian conviction and generosity. The company pays its employees about twice the minimum wage, closes on Sundays, and references the Christian gospel in advertising. All along the way, the Green family makes clear that they are driven by Christian convictions in their corporate policies.

Similarly, Conestoga Wood Specialties operates on the same convictions. The Pennsylvania company is known for its quality wood products. It was founded by a deeply committed Mennonite couple, Norman and Elizabeth Hahn, who continue to operate the business with their three sons.

Both companies sued the Obama Administration over the contraception mandate authorized under the Affordable Care Act — a mandate that required them to provide and pay for birth control coverage that would have included four specific forms of birth control that may cause early abortions. Neither company sought a complete escape from the contraception mandate.

As the majority opinion in the case made clear today, one of the largest questions hanging over the decision is this: Why is the Obama Administration so deliberate in attempting to violate the religious convictions of Americans on the contraception and birth control issue?

Today’s decision is yet another repudiation of the heavy-handed and blatantly unconstitutional overreach of President Barack Obama and his administration. The President could have covered contraception and birth control under any number of other means which would not have specifically targeted religious liberty. Instead, the Obama Administration appeared to take the route most likely to trample upon religious liberty and offend Christian conscience. Today’s decision is another rebuke of the President and his approach, coming just days after a set of cases in which his arguments were repudiated by the same court in 9-0 decisions.

Furthermore, the President faces the looming threat of even greater rebukes to come.

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D-Day at 70: Historic photos from the invasion of Normandy

 June 4 at 11:49 AM
St. Lo, France, summer 1944. (Joe Scherschel—The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)

St. Lo, France, summer 1944. (Joe Scherschel—The Life Picture Collection/Getty Images)

Friday marks the 70th anniversary of D-Day, when the U.S.-led Allied armada crossed the English Channel to launch an offensive that would help lead to the defeat of the Third Reich. World leaders, including President Obama, will journey to France to commemorate the occasion. More than 9,000 Allied soldiers died.

While most in the U.S. know of the bloody scenes that immediately follow the beaching of amphibious craft on the shores of Normandy, the brunt of the fighting took place far from the coast. Some 20,000 French civilians would perish in the crossfire, most killed by Allied bombing. Allied and German forces engaged in pitched, chaotic skirmishes throughout the picturesque Norman countryside, marked by hedgerows and old stone-and-steeple towns. Bitter fighting between U.S. forces and crack German paratroop regimes took place by St. Lo, which was reduced to rubble.

View of the ruins of the Palais de Justice in the town of St. Lo, France, summer 1944. The red metal frame in the foreground is what's left of an obliterated fire engine. (Frank Scherschel—Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images)

View of the ruins of the Palais de Justice in the town of St. Lo, France, summer 1944. The red metal frame in the foreground is what’s left of an obliterated fire engine. (Frank Scherschel—Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images)

Journalists with Henry Luce’s Life magazine were among the most enterprising and prolific during World War II. These images here are republished with Life’s permission. You can view Life’s terrific D-Day galleries hereherehere and here.

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