Normandy – what is the lesson?

View toward the entrance to Atlantic from Halifax port on June 06, 2019. Proabably the last piece of Canada they saw before sailing into dark Atlantic 75 years ago.

That was 75 years ago. The largest in the history of humankind military invasion by-sea. Today, ever thinner, pockets of 90 plus years old men gathered in Normandy on Omaha, Juno and other beaches of French coast, and some in local places of importance to the invasion. As in Halifax, which saw all Canadian Army units in 1944 and all kind of military supply vessels leaving it’s port. Some say that the narrow waterway at Halifax port was so overcrowded with ships of all sizes and manner that one could walk from one side of the peninsula to the other without getting wet… . As I write this, I watch at that port and water from the window of my office.  And try to imagine the flotilla full of young men waving to the city and land they were just leaving. Many just saw the city for the first time in their life, having come from the shores of Pacific, the farms of Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba thousands of miles away. Others were from here, from Nova Scotia, the birthplace of English Canada, from New Brunswick and it’s remnants of old French Acadia, from nearby Quebec and Ontario. A lot of these men never saw the city again. Or any other Canadian city. Their lives were cut short, very short, at Juno Beach and in the ensuing Normandy campaign.

The colour of sky and land mixes together in the cold hue of grey steel. Hard and cold, wet as the water lapping against the iron edges of barges, pontoons and small amphibious boats. The sun is just about to break through on the horizon. And the non-stop barrage of artillery and machine gun fire all around them. Around young boys and men not really sure what is just about to happen to them. Except one thing: it’s too late to turn around and sail back, too late to say: ‘I changed my mind, sir’ to your commanding officer. The hell with these damn Germans! Just let me go there, let me jump already to the cold water, get to the wet sand and start shooting at these bastards. Can’t take these waiting anymore. Just shout that bloody order and let us go …

And they did. The order came swiftly and they jumped into the water, onto the beaches. Some didn’t live much longer than four, maybe six paces on that beach. Some lived few hours, others waited in pain for a medic to stop the bleeding from arm, leg or stomach. It is probably safe to say that this stretch of Normandy’s coast in its millions years age never received so much warm blood in such a short time. It’s hard to imagine how the sand remained grey, as it would be logical that it should become dark red … .  

The bloodiest part, past the initial heavy losses at the beach, were at the Battle of Falaise, were they were fighting alongside the Polish I Armoured Division to stop the escaping, very powerful panzer Divisions of German army. That battle fought by Canadian and Polish units broke the back of German resistance and open the way for liberation of France. It seems not easy to comprehend and often is not noticed by historians in both Canada and Poland that two of extremely important battlefields of the Western Front in  the war against Hitler were fought by Canadian and Poles: in the said Battle of Falaise (IV Canadian Armoured Division of Major-General George Kitching and I Polish Armoured Division under the command of Major General Stanislaw Maczek, a talented officer with the most seniority among all major commanders of Allied Forces in the war with Hitler, as he commanded and never surrendered Polish Mechanized Brigade from 1 of September 1939 and in 1945 he accepted the final surrender of the High Command and units of German Fleet at Wilhelmshaven) and in Italian campaign, at the Battle of Monte Cassino paving the way to Rome ( 2nd Polish Corp – 3 divisions and one brigade – under the command of Lieutenant General Wladyslaw Anders and 1st Canadian Infantry Division – under Major General Christopher Vokes).

75 years ago the liberation of Europe entered its final phase. The forces of Nazism, the main perpetrator of the 1939-1945 terror, were being forcibly and violently push back to their homeland – eternal Hell. Many Heads of States today remarked how important that victory was for entire world but mainly for Western Civilization. None so eloquently as President of France, Emanuel Macron and Prime Minister of Canada, Justin Trudeau.

It’s worth noticing that these two men represent a new, younger generation of people. The one that has hardly any emotional attachment to the world war. Even their parents were either born after or were small children in 1939-1944. Yet, both of them very pointedly noticed the similarity of Nazism in Europe of the 1920-30 that led to the most horrific murders and crimes committed by authoritarian regimes of that time and the strange re-emergence of dark forces of chauvinism and Nazism today, often led by populists movements, on both sides of the Atlantic. Politically it is the most serious threat to peaceful and friendly cohabitation that existed and flourished in Europe and North America, indeed the world, since the end of 2 world war.

Rexlections? A few. The Nazism in Italy and Germany did not start with concentration camps. There was not much effort to stop it. The rich and powerful old elites looked at it with disdain but did not threat it as a serious danger to the state and way of being. The poor, unemployed and underprivileged – to the contrary. The cheap slogans of populism spoke to them. It offered hope, it showed easy targets. It divided between ‘us’ (good Germans and good Italians or good Hungarians) and ‘them’ (of course the powerful old elites, the Jews, the homosexuals, the Gypsies). Sounds similar to something here and now? Maybe no longer the ‘gypsies, jews and faggots’ (although here and there the good, traditional white man says that there should be some order instituted against these traitorous abominations of proper Christian folk-nation …) but ‘them’ – definitely. Them being, of course, the immigrants, especially with darker hue of skin. Particularly (at this moment) the so dangerous and so lazy and ever murderous ‘islamists’. With the wink that we know what ‘islamists’ means. That one country (ours, of course) is ‘great’ or greatest. But not only ‘them’ from far away. Sometime just ‘them’ from across the fence. The Mexicans are Christians, they are North Americans – but … They are not ‘us’, too brown, too native, too, well, dirty (remember the dirty Jew from 1930ies?). This is populism, the precursor of Nazism, the White Power movement. And that is how Hitlerism was born, and that is why thousands of young boys and men had to land at the beaches of Normandy and thousands of them never left the beaches alive.

Think of that when you read stories about Normandy in 1944. Don’t think of these stories with pride. No, sending thousands of men and women to terrible death on some wet and cold beach has nothing to do with pride. History does not ask us to walk with military drums,  songs and parades.  History simply asks us to learn a lesson. This particular lesson has a title: Never Again. Learn it, please.