Thursday, 5 June 2014

D-Day 70 Years on: Why Britain Fought

In recent weeks, the bravery of the troops who went ashore against the Nazis at the D-Day landings seventy years ago this morning was the subject of largely vain attempts by people on the Far Right of politics to appropriate history for their own political benefit. In spite of the fact that a good number of them had previously expressed admiration for the very Nazi regime the British and other Allied troops were battling in 1944, pictures of soldiers and of the iconic wartime Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, the shamelessly tried to align anti-European politics with the British war effort and the personal bravery of allied servicemen and women.

Churchill himself urged people to "Study history! Study history!" as the key to statecraft and politics. Well, it seems that both the anti-Europeans who have tried to seize him for their own cause and the seemingly silent pro-European "mainstream" politicians are all equally ignorant of what Churchill actually said and stood for.

Churchill was an imperialist, with some pretty questionable and unpleasant views and actions alongside his undoubted achievements. Yet he was also a realist and as the Second World War ended with the collapse of Nazism, he was central to twin efforts to both unify Europe and define and protect human rights to prevent the recurrence of the terror that had engulfed the Continent. Consequently, for those who argue to leave Europe and abrogate our commitment to the European Convention on Human Rights, Churchill's views might come as something of a surprise.

So, as we recall the brave and terrible sacrifices made on the Normandy beaches all these decades ago, it is also a time to recall what we nearly lost and why, as European unity and the commitment to the rights of all comes under increasing pressure, we should not forget the reasons these things came about in the first place. We must learn from history; only then we may also learn to not repeat the mistake of listening to the siren voices of xenophobia, bigotry and rampant nationalism that were the cause of so much harm all that time ago.

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