Ghosts of World War II Still Haunt Europe
As Britons take bets on how long Gordon Brown will stay in Downing Street and reflect on the success of the neo-fascist parties in the European elections, some of us in Britain, America, and the rest of the free world will stop to consider what this month meant for Europe and the world sixty-five years ago.
I have just come back from a pilgrimage to Portsmouth, England, where I met the dwindling contingent of British D-Day veterans who meet each year on June 6 to remember the thousands of their fallen comrades-in-arms.
What is less well known is that the weeks after D-Day saw staggering carnage in Nazi-occupied France and that the days after June 6, 1944, were as important in world history as the events of 1066. Indeed, the Overlord Embroidery, which adorns the walls of the D-Day Museum in Portsmouth, is modeled after the Bayeux Tapestry and represents the free world's salvation in the face of the horrors of a Hitlerian empire. The Allied invasion of Normandy in 1944 was the largest deployment of an expeditionary force in human history and meant the future of mankind was in the balance. Dwight Eisenhower had a chilling speech in his pocket prepared for the eventuality of defeat.
Had he and Bernard Montgomery failed, we would not be fretting over the future life of Susan Boyle or sniggering at the British MP who charged the taxpayer for a church donation. Had the men of Normandy 1944 failed, we could have been plunged into a Thousand-Year Reich. One likes to think Roosevelt, Stalin, and Churchill would not have allowed this to happen.
On June 6 in Portsmouth, a city from which thousands of Americans departed for their ultimate sacrifice, I met one British D-Day veteran who was still furious with the United States even after sixty-five years. He made sure, having detected my American accent, to fulminate about Roosevelt not entering the war early enough and imposing a huge debt upon Britain that it only finished repaying in 2008. What I found interesting was his observation that America wasted no time in going to war in Afghanistan but that in 1940 it left Britain to stand up to Hitler alone for two terrible years. He was not willing to talk about this to my video camera, but said he needed to get off his chest sixty-five years of rage. He was not moved by the fact that over 9,000 young Americans lie under crosses and stars at Omaha Beach. Reasoning with him that the United States invaded Afghanistan because it had been attacked on September 11, 2001, made no difference. He was determined to paint America as almost criminally negligent in its refusal to come to Britain's aid as soon as war was declared in 1939.