5 Jun 2009
D-Day 65 controversies?
So, here we are at D-Day plus 65 years, and there are two controversies. The first is the lunatic assertion by President Sarkozy that 'D-Day is traditionally a Franco-American event'. That is admirably demolished by the writer Agnes Poirier, in a piece in the Guardian newspaper. All the French people I have spoken to are outraged. Not only has Sarkozy now had to back down on inviting the Queen by French pressure, Barrack Obama also told him he was wrong, and has since refused a dinner invitation from him.
The second, which is discussed on the BBC website, is what they are calling 'revisionism' – the idea that not all was wonderful about the original D-Day and the following events. I have made the same points before on this blog - here and in particular here. One only has to look at photographs of utterly destoyed towns where the sole standing building is the church steeple, preserved for aiming and range finding, to understand the horror of the process, never mind the fact that civilian deaths outnumbered those of the military.
Perhaps a good summary of how we should mark the anniversary is the 6 June editorial on the front page of the local Ouest France newspaper: after referring to Churchill's determination, and the role of the then Queen, it goes on to say: Rendons hommage aux soldats des États-Unis, blancs et noirs, aux Canadiens, à tous ceux du Commonwealth qui vinrent mourir pour nous, loin de leur pays. Rendons hommage aussi aux forces armées libres comme les Forces françaises combattantes ou les brigades polonaises, à tous les résistants des pays européens occupés qui avaient poursuivi leur combat malgré la défaite de 1940 ; mais aussi aux armées de Russie dont, en débarquant ici, les alliés ont voulu soulager la peine. (Render homage to the soldiers of the US, white and black, to the Canadians, to all those of the Commonwealth who came to die for us, far from their countries. Render homage as well to free armed forces like the French fighting forces and the Polish brigades, to all the resistance of the occupied countries who continued their fight after the defeat of 1940; but also the armies of Russia, who by landing here the allies relieved their suffering - my translation).
The real point, surely, is to recognise and respect the terrible realities of the time, and learn not to repeat the horrors. To do that we need to remember exactly what happened. Not a Hollywood version, not an edited by special interests version, but the horror, the mistakes, the failures and bad behaviour, as well as the heroism of ordinary civilians and armed forces.
I previously mentioned my father's memoirs of his time in the RAF throughout World War II: these can now be found as a collection of pdf files at www.one-mans-war.com They have also been published as an eBook for Kindle and other readers, and can be bought from Amazon and other eBook sellers; details on the website.