Keeping alive the significance of D-Day

Wednesday, June 05, 2019

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Starting today, two days of memorials will be held in Britain and France, in particular, to mark the 75th anniversary of Operation Overlord, the Allied forces' push to open a western front against Adolf Hitler's Nazi forces during World War II.

Indeed, the D-Day landings on the beaches of Normandy, regarded as the world's largest naval operation, signalled the start of efforts to liberate western Europe.

History records that on June 6, 1944, a total of 156,177 Allied troops crossed the English Channel to gain a foothold on France's Atlantic coast. Approximately 133,000 troops arrived by sea, while 23,000 landed by air.

On June 6 alone, 11,500 aircraft — 3,500 gliders, 5,000 fighters and 3,000 bombers — flew over the Normandy beaches, dropping 11,912 tonnes of bombs on German coastal defence forces. Although only 127 aircraft were lost and 63 damaged, a staggering 19,470 troops were killed, injured, or listed as missing.

That was a heavy price to pay, but the D-Day landings marked the beginning of France's liberation and the eventual defeat of the Nazis, thus saving the world from an ideology that preached extermination and subjugation of people regarded as inferior.

It is worth re-emphasising that, thankfully, that sort of thinking no longer exists among well-thinking Germans today, for we have seen, over many years, German involvement in the D-Day ceremonies.

We note, though, that this year the organisers of the memorials have not invited Russian President Vladimir Putin. A news report out of France states that the reason given was that tomorrow's ceremony was being led by French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe, an apparent suggestion that Mr Putin was not invited because it was the head of the French Government and not the head of state leading the ceremony.

That is pure balderdash. In fact, as has been stated internationally, it is a striking reversal from 75 years ago when the Soviet Union's contribution, at a cost of 27 million dead soldiers and civilians, was hailed by the French as the biggest factor in Germany's defeat.

Indeed, five years ago when then French President Francois Hollande invited Mr Putin to participate in the official ceremony, despite the Russian leader's exclusion from the G-7 summit in Brussels, Mr Hollande stated that the invitation was “justified recognition of the Soviet Union's great sacrifice in defeating Hitler”.

At the time, we had expressed hope that including President Putin in the memorial ceremony could go a far way in helping to change his outlook on the Ukraine crisis. But while relations between Russia and Ukraine are still to be normalised, we reiterate that D-Day's immense significance should not be mired in politics.

For the ceremonies planned for today and tomorrow are being held to honour the brave men and women who fought in defence of freedom and democracy. Some of them were Jamaicans who were members of the bomber crews of Britain's Royal Air Force and the Royal Canadian Air Force.

The world is indeed grateful for their sacrifice and should never, ever fail to recognise them. Because, had the allied forces failed to stop Hitler, the world as we now know it would be very different.

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