WHAT a pity that tomorrow's ceremonies in Normandy cannot take place without the presence of the leaders of the 17 nations whose soldiers took part in the D–Day landings sixty years ago. There are not that many veterans left but those who are fit enough to be there will put on a brave show. It would make the point of the commemoration much clearer if the veterans had the stage to themselves for one final, poignant appearance. Unfortunately, however, it is almost inevitable that they will be upstaged by the speeches of the presidents and prime ministers whose primary concerns will be with their current political priorities and the extent to which the D–Day anniversary can be made to serve them. Since Tony Blair and George W Bush represent two of the three countries which made victory over Nazi Germany possible, they have a particular responsibility to avoid saying anything which links the Second World War to the undeclared war on terror in which they are now engaged. Britain and its Commonwealth stood alone in Europe for almost two years until joined by the United States after it had been attacked by Japan. (The third country, of course, was the Soviet Union.) Since 2001 both Mr Blair and Mr Bush have drawn parallels between the failure of the rest of Europe to deal with the threat from Adolf Hitler and the disinclination of most European countries to take steps to dislodge Saddam Hussein before it was too late. The rehabilitation of Germany (and Japan) after the Second World War has also been drawn on as a model for what should be achieved in Iraq.
It would be tedious to discuss at length why comparisons between the Second World War and the Iraq War are unhelpful and mostly misleading. Just one case will suffice. In 2002 and subsequently, when rejecting the role of the United Nations as the preferred way of dealing with Iraq, President Bush said quite often that the UN was in danger of becoming an irrelevant talking shop like the League of Nations in the 1930s when it failed to stand up to Hitler. But Mr Bush forgets, or does not know, that the United States refused to become a member of the League even though one of his predecessors in office, Woodrow Wilson, was its main architect.
LAST week, in the latest of his round of speeches at military establishments in the United States, Mr Bush said that the second world war began with an attack on the United States and added that he was going to France this weekend to honour a generation of Americans who saved the liberty of the world. It is understandable that when a leader speaks to a gathering of military people in his own country he will strike a strong nationalistic note. But it is very much to be hoped that he will avoid anything of the kind tomorrow. The 60th anniversary of D–Day should be seen as a final farewell to the brave men of many nations who fought on the Normandy beaches and subsequently in the Allied advance through Europe. It should not be used as a platform to lobby support for current policies which have nothing in common with 1944 and, even on their own terms, are a controversial and destabilising factor among nations which in the past have worked and fought together for a better world and would again if called upon to do so with respect and reason.
THE Times newspaper is becoming a haven for former Conservative Party leaders. A few weeks ago John Major contributed an article about the blame still unfairly attached to the two pilots of the RAF Chinook helicopter which crashed into the Mull of Kintyre ten years ago. The event and its outcome, he said, “still haunted him” and he pleaded for the verdict on the pilots' responsibility to be set aside. This week it has been the turn of Iain Duncan Smith to write about the War on Terror under the headline, “It's infantile to believe that inaction is an option with al–Qaeda”.
Will we shortly hear from Margaret Thatcher and William Hague?
I do not want to comment on the main thrust of Mr Smith's article - although it is tempting to ask what he means when he says that the failure to find weapons of mass destruction is “part of a difficult transition from much more troubling circumstances”. I do, however, want to take him to task for this passage: “If Britain followed Spain's example and retreated under a white flag, Iraq's emerging security forces would be unable to prevent the balkanisation of their country.” THE calumny that the decision of a new Spanish government to withdraw its troops from Iraq represented a “retreat under a white flag” is outrageous and the fact that it has been heard in various versions in Europe and, especially, the United States since mid–March does not make it any the more acceptable. I do not know whether Sr Zapatero had the opportunity to meet Michael Howard during his visit to London on Thursday but I think he is entitled to ask for an apology from the Conservative party for this remark by its recent leader. Leaving aside the accusation of cowardice, what is so remarkable about this criticism of Sr Zapatero is that he was doing no more than honouring a pledge he had made during his election campaign. Does Mr Smith think that, having won the election, Sr Zapatero should immediately have reneged on this commitment? Is that what he would have done in the unlikely event that he had ever won an election? There is, of course, an even more serious accusation implicit in Mr Smith's words - that everyone who voted for PSOE at the March election was doing so as an act of appeasement to those responsible for the Madrid train bombings. As anyone who has followed those events at all closely knows very well, this was absolutely not the case - the vote was a democratic protest against the sitting government's well–documented attempt to blame the bombings on the Basque terrorists. I think that Iain Duncan Smith owes an apology to the Spanish people as a whole, as well as to their prime minister. His “white flag” is a red rag to the Spanish bull.