Thursday, June 6, 2019

D-Day and Today: Damn

A US military cemetery in Luxembourg,
mostly those who died at the Battle of the Bulge,
as I have not been to Normandy since 1987.  
I am rectifying that in a few weeks.
Today marks the 75th anniversary of D-Day--the invasion of Normandy.  It will be the last major anniversary of that battle where there are still  more than a handful those who participated.  The surviving veterans are all deep into their 90s.  I wonder how they are thinking about today's events as we see politicians in Europe and North America pander to the far right. I would guess that they don't think that the sacrifices of the past including the loss of family and friends were in vain, but I imagine they might be very, very frustrated and supremely disappointed.

While Donald Trump symbolizes much of this--"there were good people on both sides" of Charlottesville, he is not alone.   Not in the US, not in North America and not in Europe this week.  In the US, we have folks who are implementing Trump's policies with either a reckless or determined cruelty (hard to tell which on a given day) or both as kids are being kept in cages when they are not left alone in hot vans for nearly 40 hours, as orders of two million diapers remind us of the scale of babies in cages, as trans people are dying after being held by Customs, and so on.  This all began in the US with xenophobic statements about the threat of immigration despite the tide of immigrants falling. 

In Canada, the current leader of the Conservative Party seeks to have it both ways.  Showing up at an event where neo-nazis and other far right fringe elements and then saying his fear-mongering about irregular immigrants is not xenophobic.  Um, sure.  Andrew Scheer might be worried about Maxime Bernier's People's Party of Canada, but we should not forget that in the last days of the last campaign, Stephen Harper's team pandered to the far right, promising a tip line for folks report barbaric cultural practices, which was clearly aimed at Canada's Muslim community.  In Quebec, all of the major parties are pushing variants of laws that discriminate against Muslims and  Jews.  So, it is not just Bernier and not just the Conservatives being tempted.

In the UK, Nicholas Farage is influential as his party did the best in the recent European elections.  Seems like a hard plurality but not majority are ok with supporting lying fascists (that would be Farage) as long as they promise to leave the EU.  Damn the costs, full speed ahead?

In Europe and North America, we see far more swastikas and vandalism of Jewish cemeteries now than in previous years.  I don't think it is just confirmation bias or selection bias or anything like it.  What has changed over the past ten years or so and especially the last three or so has been the tolerance of the far right by right wing parties.  And folks on the far right engage in such activities because they are trying to send a variety of signals--to instill fear among Jews, of course.  But also to show that the Nazis, in whatever guise, are back and feeling bold.  Of course, attacking tombstones in the dark of night is not very brave, but it is what they do. 

The irony is that D-Day, despite being dismissed by the Russian foreign ministry on twitter this week, was a huge relief to the Soviet Union, something Stalin had demanded for years.  These days, the Russians, who had been hurt so much by Nazi Germany and who did indeed bear most of the burden of the war and of the victory, are now cheering on the far right in Europe and North America.  Their social media campaigns, their money, and all the rest are feeding the Neo-Nazis. 

So, it is strange to watch the D-Day ceremonies and feel far more common cause and sympathy with the German Chancellor than with the President of the United States or the Prime Minister of the UK. 

I am sure I will be feeling a variety of mixed emotions when I go to Normandy in a couple of weeks in between European conferences.  Just as I do today.  I am always in awe of those who flung themselves out of planes or jumped into the waters towards machine gun nests.  Ike said twenty years after D-Day: "these people gave us a chance, and they bought time for so, so that we could do better than we have before."  I just wish that we had used the time they bought more effectively.

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