The 65th anniversarycommemoration of D Day this weekend is a reminder that for all the unity and common purpose that Europe exhibits today, the wounds and trauma of history’s greatest war run deep and permanent.
The moving ceremonies on the beach at Normandy on June 6, 2009, brought together the leaders of France, Britain, the United States and Canada, in a recreation (sans the Soviet Union) of the great wartime alliance.
Prime Minister Harper spoke of the sacrifices of the soldiers who went ashore in face of withering German fire. He reminded us of the principles for which Allied troops gave their lives — freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law.
Today, a galaxy of independent European states is working together in the great experiment that is the European Union. Voters across that continent elect members to the European Parliament, creating a federal structure not unlike that of Canada. All EU members except Britain share the Euro. The UK will probably take up the Euro after the next election there.
While every European country has distinct problems and challenges, most Europeans share a desire that their continent pursue policies that will contribute to international peace and economic progress. They want no part of a renewed Cold War, or a “clash of civilizations” with the Islamic world.
Europeans have been able to accomplish the remarkable transformation from a clutch of warring states to a peaceable, collective bloc of equal states without forgetting the evils of the Nazi regime that held much of Europe in its grip from 1933 to 1945.
The leaders who spoke at the D Day ceremonies were blunt in their remembrance of the colossal tyranny of Nazism and Fascism.
While no one said as much, it is worth remembering that Hitler and his gang did not carry out their nefarious schemes, including the Holocaust, without the willing cooperation of large numbers of the German population of that time.
Dramatic evidence of the complicity of hundreds of thousands of Germans is to be found in Daniel Goildhagen’s 1996 book, Hitler’s Willing Executioners: Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust (Reed).
Goldhagen’s book, now considered a classic, abolished the myth that only the Nazi party elite, or SS members, were involved in planning and executing Hitler’s “final solution.”
Goldhagen shows that vast numbers of Germans made themselves willing partners in the Holocaust. Hundreds of thousands participated in rounbding up, imprisoning and finally, executing millions of Jews and other victims. And millions of Germans knew — and supported — what was going on.
I bring this up not to castigate a generation that has long since gone to its reward. There is a more important point to make. It is that we can remember the evils of that time without visting the sins of the fathers on their Germans of today. The vigor of the European Union is testament to this noble fact.
And if reconciliation and remembrance can occur simultaneously, it should be possible for men and women of goodwill to settle other, newer problems that confront the world in the 21st century.
The lesson of Europe is the lesson of history — that people and nations can and do change, and that because of this, optimism for the future need never give way to pessimism.