Saturday, June 06, 2009

D-Day, 65 years later

My breakfast today follows live the Normandy military cemetery of Coleville-sur-Mer, switching back and forth between BBC and TV5 to get the original soundtracks of the speeches and ceremonies.

I have had always a certain ambiguity about D-day. Part of my relatives were among the civilian dead of that day and it is one of the reasons why I was born in Venezuela. If I never questioned the historical necessity behind the day, a little voice in me always wondered whether a better way was available. But another voice in me told me that the Normandy beaches were a direct result of a certain day in Munich not even a decade earlier.

Years went by and ten years of chavismo make me look at June 6 1944 as a more momentous day than what we could think, perhaps the true foundation of Western Democracy. We have now a life time to judge the worth of D-day and the ruling is good, the sacrifice was worth every drop of precious blood shed on Normandy beaches, and of the civilians bombed since the night before.

In 1944 there were only three democracies left, the United States of America, The United Kingdom and the Crown Dominions, Canada the one at task on D-day as the others were equally busy elsewhere. Switzerland and Sweden were cornered and weakened and doomed. Besides Argentina, soon gone after the war, there was really nothing much to report from Latin America.

Today there is the European Union standing in defense of democracy, and elsewhere in the word countries that have followed the principles defended on D-day have all of them found that this was the best way to ensure the maximum of prosperity and happiness and freedom for their people, more than at any other political moment in their previous history. Or is anyone doubting that the prosperity and freedom of, say, South Korea, is not indebted to D-day? Was not the Korean War an expression of democracies refusing to lose more ground? Would the magnificent democratic example of India last May be possible if Hitler had invaded Great Britain and opened the door of India to Japan?

D-day today hosts only France, the UK, Canada and of course the United States. It cannot be otherwise. The rivalry between France and England since the Plantagenet times is what has created the modern concept of democracy that rules the world and that embitters so much those who oppose it on fundamentalist reasons. Ideas, arts, economics were always influenced more or less by that rivalry between two competing societies who never could stop from admiring each other in spite of everything. Be it Montesquieu writing "L'esprit des lois" as he was aware of parliamentarianism and rule of law being born across the Channel, or the English Royals always willing to cross La Manche for a good time, at all levels both cultures were always incredibly dependent of each other, as a simple examination of their vocabulary will reveal.

The U.S. is born of that rivalry, its continental expanse made possible from the French defeat of 1763 and its independence made possible from the revenge seeking French Monarchy sending its fleet at Yorktown, a France bankrupting itself in its support of the American Revolution, a bankruptcy soon leading to the French Revolution. That is why no matter what happens these three countries will always grow past silly moments like the "freedom fries".

Americans and British can never have enough of Paris and the French country side, and the French need to admire grudgingly their intellectual adversaries. Maybe the freedom of Europe could not have started elsewhere but the Normandy beaches for geographical reasons, but the freedom of Europe could not have started before the freedom of France. Roosevelt maybe did not quite get that but Churchill certainly knew it, and for all his dislike of de Gaulle. France did not have that many soldiers on D-day but it put up the land, one of its most beautiful and historical provinces and its inhabitants without ever a word of reproach, adding gratefully sumptuous military cemeteries. We all pay our freedom the way we can and Normandy since 1066 has been the crucible of our mutual debts.

Another value that is a consequence of D-day is forgiveness. This year, as always but once, Germany did not attend. It cannot, nor can Japan attend similar events in the Pacific. And yet who doubts that Germany and Japan are not today essential countries of the world, whose roles to support democracy is unquestionable and even exemplary? The punishment of Germany and Japan must always be reminded, as well as the reconciliation that allowed for a better world. There is power in symbolism. It is the role of Germany and Japan to remind us that redemption is possible so that the Paris Berlin axis becomes the key to peace in Europe just as the Washington Tokyo one is the key to Asian peace, as authoritarian China rises.

But do not expect this value of forgiveness and sacrifice to be the cornerstone of people like Chavez. His idea of the world is one of grudges and evenge with the hate that comes along. Democracy for him is a dangerous element because it calls for self questioning, understanding of the adversary and the ability to admire the qualities of said adversaries. For that you need to accept your own failings, and you need to accept them if you need to seek or to offer help without losing your pride or becoming arrogant.

Our future is still resting in Normandy, under the grass of these beautiful cemeteries, among the handful of survivors still able to make the annual pilgrimage to the shores where they suffered so much. I take comfort in knowing that the future still belongs to this brave old men and not to the younger cowards like Chavez or Osama Bin Laden.


-The end-

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