The entrance to the British War Cemetery in Bayeux has this inscription – “Nos a Gulielmo Victi Victoris Patriam Liberavimus”. Translated (We who were conquered by William have now liberated his country), this elegant Latin phrase bridges a millennium of turbulent history from 1066 to 1944.
The similarities between the two events – the invasion of Britain by William the Norman Conqueror, and the first step to the liberation of the continent through the greatest invasion in history – are endless and could easily be the subject of an article in their own right.
There are however other perspectives. The battles and turmoil of the past have served to enlighten us as to the absolute futility of war. The 6 June 1944 saw a force assembled from all the four corners of the globe united in one common ideal – It was not a fight for territory or for profit, it was not a war against a people, it was a struggle against oppression and tyranny in the name of freedom. The blood spilt to establish the bridgehead of democracy on the beaches of Normandy knew no nationality.
Have we learnt anything from this lesson given to us by history? Has the great price in human life paid on that day been in vain? These are the questions we need to ask ourselves, and attempt to answer today. The horrors of that global conflagration led some great people to reflect, and to propose a way forward for Europe built on peace, dialogue and mutual cooperation.
Schuman, Monet, Adenauer, Spinelli…. and many others, laid out the ideals around which the European Union sprouted and grew. This has given us 69 years of peace and prosperity so far, in a Union which will have grown to include 28 countries by the end of this year. Disputes are taken to the table not to the battlefield, and discussions on thorny issues are decided in compromise, where all players yield a little so that all players gain a lot. Everybody compromises and everybody wins. War has no compromise, and in battle there are no winners, only lesser losers. So the answers to the questions posed earlier are – ‘yes’, we did to some extent learn, and ‘no’ the price paid was not in vain.
But time passes, complacency sets in, and we forget: the principles of unity, dialogue and compromise are needed most in times when we are facing difficult situations. And yet, in these past few months of economic crisis, we have seen short sighted national interests take over from the collective sense of belonging and sharing that have served us so well, and given us so much.
We seem to have forgotten that it is this type of voices, seeking scapegoats and drawing hateful comparisons, that gave birth to the evil Nazi movement that plunged the world over the abyss into the modern dark ages. We are once again seeing the heads of fanatical nationalism, ethnic division and pure selfishness and greed raising their ugly heads in the form of irresponsible exponents of false ideologies that are very good at destroying existing structures on the grounds of imperfections, and in return promising nothing of substance.
Let us all therefore be attentive students to the lesson whose tuition costs were paid for in the currency of human sacrifice. The headstones of the innumerable young men who lost their lives on that fateful day in June scream out to be noticed. Let us not be deaf to them, and to each other.
It is only through dialogue, mutual respect and support in times of need that we may continue to enjoy what others have achieved for us. For that to be safeguarded, every day is our D-Day.