The lessons of D Day
06 June 2019 IN: Bishop
I started school in the spring of 1962. Long enough after the end of the Second World War for much of the private human loss to have faded into sad memory. Yet sufficiently recent for the sense of a tremendous victory to be a central part of the Britain I grew up in. Stories of wartime courage and heroism littered our playground games and filled the pages of my boyhood comics. D Day played a vital part in that narrative. For us this was the iconic moment when the tide truly turned. The English Channel, Britain’s chief line of defence in the dark days after Dunkirk, became the launchpad for the liberation of Europe.
Little more than a lifetime ago, in the very heart of our continent, an extreme ideology broke free of Europe’s ethical and religious moorings, seducing the minds or securing the submission of ordinary citizens. Six million Jews were murdered, along with gypsies, political activists, sexual minorities, Trades Unionists, people with disabilities - all were denied a place in its vision of empire. The Normandy landings signalled the start of the campaign that would wrest Europe back from that darkness. The many who waded ashore that morning, and in the days to follow, need no glamorising. They simply heeded their nation’s call; they did their duty. And by their efforts a great evil was defeated.
I’m far more ambivalent about war nowadays than was my childhood self. I’ve followed too many tawdry conflicts, campaigns that at first seemed morally based, yet where the loss of life and wreckage of societies far outweighed all advantage gained. I serve as visitor to the Anglican Pacifist Fellowship, not because I’m a pacifist - I’m not - but because the voice of pacifism is a voice too easily lost, sometimes deliberately silenced, by the noise of conflict. Yet if battle can in extremity be justified, we owe it to those who fought in France that first D Day, to put our fellow citizens lives at risk for no lesser cause than theirs. No petty political prize, no shallow economic advantage, is worth such cost.
More crucially, we owe it to them, and to all victims of war, to heed the warning signs in our own generation. To launch our lesser D Days against such forces that today would fan the flames of ancient prejudices. To direct our landing craft towards the ideologies of those who deny the common rights and dignity of all human beings, made in God’s image. And to deploy in our efforts, not guns and tanks, but those weapons central to my own Christian tradition, arms available to people of all faiths and none - justice, integrity, compassion, and love.