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Monday, 9 June 2014

A Little D-Day Reflection

Maybe it is just me but, apart from the fact that last Friday will have been the last ten-year anniversary when a sizeable number of Operation Overlord veterans were around to mark the occasion, the saddest thing about the 70th anniversary of D-Day was the European political situation in the context of which it took place.  Even by the latter part  of 1940, most people were aware that this was not just another national war against Germany but something (unlike the First World War - let's be quite clear about that) far bigger: a war for a better world.  Let's also not forget that the bulk of the Conservative party establishment (Churchill being viewed by them as a maverick), and much of the British establishment overall, had actually been fairly open to making peace with Hitler after Dunkirk and maintaining an isolation from occupied Europe.  The British and, later, American war-effort  became - in a very real sense - pro-European.  D-Day was intervention in Europe to crusade - in Eisenhower's words - against fascism and Nazism and the nationalist, racist,  intolerant ideas wrapped up in that.  As the 1945 Labour landslide made very clear, this, for most participants, had become a war for social justice not just a national, patriotic war: for me, something much more deserving of remembrance, pride and gratitude.

How sad, then, that the anniversary should come so soon after the successes of right-wing, xenophobic parties across Europe: the FN was established by a holocaust-denier; Golden Dawn have come right out singing the Horst Wessel Lied and making overtly antisemitic statements, UKIP is essentially a party of intolerance, overtly blaming hardship on immigrants but riddled with people holding xenophobic, racist, homophobic, even eugenicist views.  How sad to see this celebration against the backdrop of the dismantling of the Welfare State under the smokescreen of the demonisation of the poor (Channel 5 starts another benefit-bashing series this week), while the rich (the people really taking the bread out of the working class's mouths)  get richer, more children are living in conditions of poverty, education becomes ever more the privilege of the well-off, education as a social good and free thinking in universities are all under attack.  Tragic to see this against what looks like a re-run of the 1930s.  Saddest of all is the knowledge that, so effective has the politics of fear become that even some of the participants of June 1944 apparently voted for UKIP.  (Of course the impending world cup will inevitably be an excuse in some quarters for all the usual Engerlaaaand, Jeeermany, 'we won the war' stuff.  *sigh*)

I'd like to think that we might pause to consider what the sacrifice of the Second World War (especially the period between mid 1940 and mid-1941when Britain and its empire stood alone in defence of that greater cause rather than making a peace that might have been economically beneficial, preserved the Empire for longer, etc. etc.) was really about, and it wasn't about chest-thumping, sabre-rattling  nationalism, prejudice and certainly not Little Englanderish isolation from Europe.