1944 Lessons Learned

Discussion in 'Current Events' started by Annie, Jun 5, 2004.

  1. Annie

    Annie Diamond Member

    Nov 22, 2003
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    A day to honour true friends
    (Filed: 06/06/2004)

    D-Day, on its 60th anniversary, is passing from memory into symbolism. This may not be the last time that veterans gather in large numbers, and to such moving effect, at the Normandy memorials, but as more of these gallant soldiers pass away, a younger generation of politicians can more comfortably wrangle about the imagery of the landings.

    This is, for example, the first year that the German leader has been invited to the commemoration; but his Italian counterpart has been left out. Silvio Berlusconi is understandably annoyed. So are the Americans, who detect a calculated snub to one of their allies in the recent Iraqi campaign. Whether or not this suspicion is justified, it certainly fits with the interpretation that many Europeans are imposing upon the anniversary.

    Opponents of the recent conflict see D-Day as the ultimate contrast to the perceived blunders of the Iraq war: the culmination of a mighty struggle fought on behalf of all mankind, the polar opposite of the allegedly illegal overthrow of Saddam Hussein by a US President pursuing a sinister ideological agenda and assisted by a hopelessly deluded British Prime Minister.

    According to this historical analysis, the defeat of Nazism, unlike the overthrow of Ba'athism, was as an act of unsullied liberation. It was from this momentous military achievement that European integration followed, predicated on the idea that if nations were dissolved into a larger union, there would be no more wars. Sixty years on, the EU retains its founders' reflexive horror at "militarism", which is why so many Europeans today are hysterically hostile to a US administration prepared to project its interests with force.

    It is easy enough to see how these lessons were drawn by those on the continent who had experienced the devastasting horrors of Hitler's war machine, and why those lessons persist today. None the less, they are misguided. Britain did not enter the Second World War, as Tony Blair once claimed, to overthrow Hitler. We did so because of the violation of Polish sovereignty. From the first, our opposition to the Nazi tyranny was bound up with the cause of national independence. We fought, of course, for our own country; but also for the freedom of all nations. In this sense, the ever-closer amalgamation of Europe's states may be seen as the most bitterly ironic outcome of the Second World War.

    D-Day stands, also, as a triumph for the English-speaking nations - the "Anglosphere", to use the current buzzword. We had valued help, certainly, from our European auxiliaries. But the core of the operation was a victory by British, American and Canadian armies in that most dangerous of military endeavours, an amphibious assault. A similar coalition came together last year in the Gulf. There were objections to the war in Iraq and to the subsequent occupation; that is in the nature of conflict. But let us not lose sight of the bigger picture.

    The Atlantic alliance has suffered many setbacks in the past 60 years, most obviously in the humiliation of Britain over Suez, but also in lesser embarrassments such as America's invasion of Grenada in 1983. Mr Blair may well pay an electoral price in this week's European and local elections for his loyal support of George W Bush. None the less, the transatlantic alliance remains the world's best hope for stability and security.

    Only America still has the military might and the will to intervene decisively when this security faces a serious threat; only Britain has shown the consistent courage to come to America's aid and - no less importantly - to dissuade the world's only superpower from retreating into isolationism.

    The EU churns out grandiloquent documents and charters promising a European army to rival Nato, and Mr Blair is guilty of encouraging this reckless dream. But at no point have our EU partners explained how they will change the structure of public spending in their countries, where the welfare state eclipses defence expenditure, to fund such a force. Imagine a world stage from which the American military had withdrawn: what, exactly, would an EU army have done about the threat posed by Saddam Hussein, his non-compliance with UN inspections and the terrifying stocks of weapons of mass destruction, which, to this day, are not accounted for?

    The liberation of Europe in 1944-45 was perceived by contemporaries in straightforward terms: a victory for humanity over an evil ideology. But we have lost the habit of thinking in this way. Imagine, for a moment, that the BBC then had been as it is today; imagine John Humphrys interviewing Winston Churchill after Operation Overlord. Why did we not have better intelligence? Why were we insisting on an amphibious landing that was bound to lead to colossal casualties? Why had we agreed to put some of our forces under the overall command of an American general? Above all, why were we insisting on the unconditional surrender of Nazi Germany, a demand that could only prolong the fighting? It is surely better, the Today programme of 1944 would have argued, to negotiate a League of Nations interim authority over occupied Europe while finding some moderate Nazi - Himmler, say - to lead a provisional German administration.

    Let us not forget what the English-speaking peoples have achieved together: the end of slavery; the dissemination of law and liberty to new continents; the rescuing of Europe from tyranny; the defeat of Stalinism. As Kipling wrote of the Saxon: "He never means anything seriously till he talks about justice and right." Sometimes, of course, we will make mistakes. Sometimes we will fall out one with another. The United States, like any other nation, makes errors. But Churchill was only half-joking when he said: "You can always count on Americans to do the right thing - after they've tried everything else."

    But, in a world where the only alternative is the moral posturing of arthritic international organisations such as the EU or the UN, the transatlantic partnership is the only force that can still offer freedom to distant lands. Then, as now, the Atlantic alliance in arms is an awesome thing. Let us think long and hard before we abandon it.

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