D-DAY IN 2019
Last week was the 75th anniversary of the D-Day Landings. In the UK and on the beaches at Normandy, there were memorial services happening to remember the 156,000 Allied troops involved and the 10,000 of those who died.
It’s right that the Allied fight against Hitler should be remembered and the dead should be honoured. It’s also right that it shouldn’t be romanticised, trivialised or used as propaganda – unless it’s anti-fascist propaganda (and I mean real political fascism, not the current trend among the right for calling the left fascist).
That’s why it’s frustrating to hear conversations and see posts on social media using such events as a way to criticise young people today. This especially true as the overwhelming majority of it comes from people who never fought in a war themselves.
Here’s an excerpt from the post which set me off on this train of thought:
They gave their lives fighting Hitler and the Nazis, so today’s kids can call everyone they don’t like Hitler and Nazis.
Think about that.
Let’s look at this. It implies that nothing today is as bad as Hitler and the Nazis and anyone who says they are is being childish (whilst shoving a petty hashtag on the end of what had been a sombre speech).
To a degree its implication is true; in 2019 there is no one as successfully evil as Hitler or as organised as the Nazis. However, it doesn’t follow that there aren’t people comparable in intentions or beliefs to them, be they white supremacists or ISIS. The struggle against such people will continue as long as the human race stumbles on.
To deny this doesn’t somehow honour WW2 soldiers (or WW1 soldiers for that matter), rather it ignores both the lessons that should be learned from their deaths, and also of history. Even a cursory look at the interwar period of 1918-1939 shows how economic and political conditions led to WW2. We can see how Hitler exploited a humiliated German people by giving them a Jewish scapegoat and promising to liberate liebensraum for them to build a new empire. The rest is a very bloody history that, if you read anything written in the immediate aftermath, those who experienced agreed should “never happen again”.
Surely anyone with the vaguest idea of what war actually entails (I have a Great Uncle who served in the Navy during WW2 and was so affected by what he saw in Burma that he refuses to talk about it) believes it should never happen again, but there are two problems:
1 – As those who fought in WW2 leave us, it becomes a history that can only be told second-hand – and second-hand history can only be subjective. It can also easily be interpreted to suit different agendas.
2 – As it becomes ever more remote in the past, war becomes easily glorified and romanticised. Look for instance at how the mindless slaughter of WW1 has become soft-edged and commodified by ever-more elaborate poppies and remembrances. It’s increasingly common to find people wearing poppy badges all year round (a badge of honour rather than remembrance?)
Therefore, when similar conditions that bred WW2 start occurring, it’s easy for people to either not notice them or to dismiss those trying to draw comparisons as hysterical because, not only is that all in the distant past, it’s an insult to the fallen to suggest that the victory they died for wasn’t final.
Those the same age today as the soldiers involved in D-Day were face different dangers. That they’re not in an army in a military war against fascists gives their struggles some context, but it doesn’t automatically discount them. I can well imagine that if the Battle of Cable Street happened today, then social media would be awash with conservative/right-wing commentators berating the SJWs for rioting just because they don’t agree with Oswald Mosley.
(Note: If you want to see how fascistic attitudes persist, take a scroll through the comments under this video of Mosley.)
The ‘kids of today’ targeted by the post I quoted above are engaged in fighting climate change, all manner of prejudices, xenophobic nationalism etc. All these issues are related in some degree to a refusal to listen to history’s reality. People instead are choosing to believe romantic visions of empires and glorious war dead, informed by the nostalgic belief that the past was objectively better rather than subjectively (if you need an example of this just look at those who were children in the 1990s and believe they had a proper childhood, unlike those of today). These same people are then exploited by the jingoistic likes of Nigel Farage, Donald Trump et al. This in turn links to the rise of the post-factual society, confirmation bias etc.
These are all worrying trends that don’t turn the clock back, but instead repeat the worst of history with the civilisation-destroying potential of modern technology.
To quote Tony Benn, “every generation must fight the same battles again and again. There’s no final victory and there’s no final defeat.” The kids of today (I’ve grown to really dislike that phrase over the last 900 words) aren’t landing on beaches, laying their young lives on the line. However, the politically-active left-wing young at whom people sneer in comparing them to D-Day soldiers are up against the same root problems of that caused the rise of the Nazis. I don’t doubt that likening someone to a Nazi or something to 1930s Germany has become a cliché. But it’s only a cliché because…?
One can only hope that they can arrest the rise of far-right attitudes so that the following generation won’t be giving their lives in another world war.