ME and Ophelia

Sunday, June 06, 2004

Lesson for today

Every week, for the past 25 years, the British Sunday Times newspaper has been delivered to my door. Unfortunately Times Online does not enable deep linking. So, instead of taking a hard copy clipping for future reference, I am copying here in full today's excellent leading article "D-day lesson for today":

"This weekend we commemorate the extraordinary heroism and sacrifice of the D-Day landings. It comes as the free world also mourns the death of one of its greatest leaders, Ronald Reagan, who died last night. Sixty years after the invasion of France, D-Day remains as powerful as ever in its symbolism of freedom vanquishing tyranny. Nor must we forget the devastating cost in human life. Shortly before 7am on June 6, soldiers of America’s 1st Infantry Division, many of them young National Guardsmen from Virginia, suffered 99% casualties in 15 bloody minutes on Omaha Beach. British, Canadian and other allied troops also lost huge numbers. The individual stories of bravery and comradeship are, to a generation that has grown up in an era of European peace, quite astonishing.

On D-Day alone, an estimated 3,000 men were killed and 9,000 injured. In the ensuing Battle of Normandy the carnage reached the proportions of the Somme, with huge casualties on both sides. Veterans recollect the fields of northern France being turned into a hell-hole, the bodies of soldiers, civilians and animals littered across the landscape. It is small comfort that it could have been worse. On D-Day itself Field Marshal Rommel, commander of German forces, had gone to Germany to celebrate his wife’s 50th birthday, believing the weather too bad for any invasion. The allies had surprise on their side.

If D-Day had failed, the course of history would have changed. Hitler, having repulsed the allies in France, would have been given a chance of victory. Martin Gilbert, the historian, argues that Germany would have developed new and more deadly flying bombs, diverted its forces to fighting the Soviet Union and eliminated the remaining Jews in Europe. Had the “Longest Day” ended in disaster for the allies, the setback would have been crushing.

In another, barely less awful, “what if?” version of history, Soviet military might could have prevailed against Germany and, while British, American and Canadian forces were kicking their heels in Britain, ensured the spread of communism across the whole of Europe beyond the Channel. D-Day had to succeed and we can be eternally grateful that it did.

Nor should we forget that D-Day and the liberation of Europe could not have happened without the United States. Churchill, while gung-ho enough in the end to want to be part of the invasion fleet, was nervous because of his two failed military adventures in the Dardanelles in 1915 and at Narvik in 1940. General Eisenhower kept the momentum going for invasion.

Neither would the end of the cold war have happened without the presence of Reagan who came to power in 1980 and famously branded the Soviet Union “the evil empire”. But it was his determination, allied to that of Margaret Thatcher, that brought about the end of the stand-off between the two nuclear blocs. The West had won.

Nevertheless, the passage of time should not disguise the fact that America could be a difficult ally and had only grudgingly used her burgeoning power in the second world war. Military support came late after Pearl Harbor made US entry into the war inevitable. Even after 1941, America combined its support for the allied cause with a determination to dismantle Britain’s empire and its pretensions to be a post-war superpower. Nor was Europe’s transition from war to peace without trauma. Democracy and the rule of law did not flower instantly when the guns fell quiet. Even Reagan and Thatcher had their disagreements, notably over conflicts in the Falklands and Granada.

We should remember those lessons amid the wave of anti-Americanism directed at George W Bush. The Iraq invasion was no D-Day but there were parallels. A totalitarian leader was deposed, thanks to American, British and other allied forces. The rule of law has taken time to establish but the signs are positive. We and the rest of Europe should remember that we are always stronger when standing alongside America. Tony Blair understands that. It was the lesson in 1944 and it is true in the war against terrorism today."

# posted by Ingrid J. Jones @ 6/06/2004
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