Every year, on June 6, commemorative activities and memorials are held for the anniversary of the Normandy landings, popularised by the slogan D-Day. The commemorations are inevitably emotional and moving occasions, as the ever-diminishing number of D-Day veterans gather on Omaha beach to remember that fateful day, respect their fallen comrades and pledge to educate succeeding generations of their tremendous sacrifices. This invasion was no ‘Saving Private Ryan’; it was a terrible and horrifying experience, as the veterans themselves recall.
The 70th anniversary was back in June 2014; preparations are already underway for the upcoming 75th anniversary in 2019. The enormous sacrifices of the D-Day veterans should never ever be forgotten. It is instructive to examine the way that the 70th anniversary was celebrated – as a window into the political contours of our world, so many years after the end of World War Two.
Former US President Barack Obama gave a speech at Omaha beach in June 2014 – and this speech can only be described as an unadulterated paean to US militarism. A belligerent, bombastic speech, Obama hailed the United States military as ‘the greatest force for freedom the world has ever known’. Describing the Normandy landings as ‘democracy’s beach-head’, Obama not only completely ignored the decisive contribution of the Soviet Union to the defeat of Nazism and fascism, but also attempted to wrap current US wars overseas in the mantle of ‘D-Day patriotism’. By the time of the Normandy incursion, the Soviets had completed the bulk of the fighting against Nazi Germany, and had inflicted serious defeats on the Nazi war machine, from which the latter would never recover.
It is interesting to note, in this context, that Obama pointedly refused to join other world leaders during the May 2015 70th anniversary celebrations of Victory in Europe day in Moscow. As Ray McGovern stated in his article “Obama’s Petulant WWII Snub of Russia“; Obama’s temper tantrum only reflected on his own qualities as a leader:
But Obama, in his childish display of temper, will look rather small to those who know the history of the Allied victory in World War II. If it were not for the Red Army’s costly victories against the German invaders, particularly the tide-turning battle at Stalingrad in 1943-1944, the prospects for the later D-Day victory in Normandy in June 1944 and the subsequent defeat of Adolf Hitler would have been much more difficult if not impossible.
More than just a snub directed at Moscow, Obama’s speech willfully distorted the history of World War Two. Rather than acknowledging the struggles of the Soviets (and the Chinese in the Far East) to defeat Nazi imperialism, Obama turned the Normandy landings into a crusade for American-style ‘democracy’. Obama attempted to draw a parallel between the D-Day veterans who fought against fascism, and the post 9/11 generation and the American predatory wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
One wonders what freedoms the Americans brought with them as they devastated Iraqi society, and have sunk into a quagmire in Afghanistan which shows no signs of abating. D-Day was undertaken to fight against the depredations of German imperialism. While the American soldiers who served and died gave their lives so that Nazi imperialism is defeated once and for all, let us not use D-Day as a cover to portray the eruption of American imperialism as a humanitarian or life-saving project. Imperial plunder and killing cannot be given a human face, or disguised as a humanitarian enterprise. The United States military-industrial complex carreis out invasions of other countries, not out of an D-Day ‘fighting the good fight’ reasons, but for reasons of economic and military advantage. Former President Obama escalated and perfected the technique of drone strikes around the world, taking aerial warfare into dimensions that the Nazi German leadership could only dream about.
Back in June 2014, French President Francois Hollande hosted Russian President Vladimir Putin for the 70th anniversary commemorations of D-Day. Hollande stated that while he has his differences with Moscow, he will never forget the tremendous sacrifices that Russia made to defeat Nazi Germany during the war. On D-Day, let us pay our respects to the veterans, but not forget the Great Patriotic War.
However, Obama’s purposeful distortion of historical realities was not the only outrage that he committed in his speech. The D-Day soldiers gave of their lives to defeat the fascistic parties and governments in Europe that had lead us into world-wide war. What we can witness now in Europe, is the rise to power of semi-fascistic and ultra-right wing parties – particularly in the Ukraine – that draw their political inspiration from fascist figures and politicians during the 1930s and 1940s.
In the run-up to the 2014 D-Day commemorations, Obama was touring in Europe to drum up support for the newly-installed ultra-rightist coup government in Kiev, the Ukraine. That regime, lead by neo-Nazi and fascistic parties, seeks to rehabilitate the reputations of those Ukrainians who collaborated with the Nazi German forces in the Second World War. The members of the wartime Organisation of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN), a racist, anti-semitic group that carried out ethnic cleansing and pogroms during the war, are now regarded as heroic visionaries by the current US-installed Kiev rightist regime. Surely we are desecrating the memory of those who fought against fascism by quietly supporting and rehabilitating the ideological progeny of fascist parties today?
Let us face the reality that for the first time since the end of the war, an openly anti-Semitic, pro-Nazi party controls the levers of power in a European state, the Ukraine. That this government is reprehensible is clear enough; what is even more galling is that this regime has the political and ideological support of the United States. While the former Obama administration strenuously denied that neo-fascists serve in the Kiev government, the evidence undermines the US administration’s claims.
In 2016, thousands of activists from the ultra-nationalist Ukrainian Right gathered in Kiev to mark the anniversary of the founding of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA), the armed wing of the OUN. The insurgent army provided the bulk of the Ukrainian ethnic-cleansing shock troops during the war, fighting alongside the Germans as an auxiliary force. Let us not forget the genocidal legacy of the Ukrainian Insurgent army, as they left a blood-soaked trail of death and destruction in the areas of the Ukraine and Eastern Europe in which they fought. It is not just in the Ukraine that the rehabilitation of Nazi collaborators has proceeded apace.
The D-Day landings were a pivotal moment in the history of World War Two. The battles of the veterans must always be remembered as a unique, decisive contribution to the military defeat of fascism. It does a poor service to their memory to politically revive the doctrines that they gave their lives fighting against.