Thursday, June 4, 2009

The D-Day Flap

There'll be more than enough ink spilled on the Obama speech in Cairo yesterday, so I'm refraining--except to say, About time! It's about time that this country changed its intentions and its direction in the Middle East. It's about time someone spoke those simple truths on a variety of topics, such as I heard yesterday from the President's lips. Good for him.

But rather than spilled ink, I choose instead to address the spilled blood on the Normandy beaches, on that awful day back in 1945. Count me among the Brits who are openly peeved by the failure to invite the British queen--who, unlike any of the Johnny-come-lately's staging this show, actually served in World War II; whose husband served in the British navy; and whose parents did a brave and noble job maintaining the spirits of a country under vicious attack from the (then) more powerful would-be invaders. As France and the United States seek to snatch the glory of that bloody day, they seem to have forgotten that nearly as many British men as Americans rushed up those beaches into the blistering Nazi gunfire--along with only a handful of Frenchmen, no less courageous but, truthfully, few in number. It's a cheeky piece of arrogance to pretend otherwise. Sorry if I sound jingoistic and bellicose. It's just that I'm old enough to have lived through those days in England, and I get my dander up when it's forgotten that Great Britain stood virtually alone for years against the Nazis, before America showed up and "won the war." And, please, it's NOT that we Europeans should forget America's vital, absolutely indispensable role...

A propos of which... I watched our recordings of the excellent television series, Behind Closed Doors: Stalin, the Nazis, and the West, last week. Since the Soviet Union collapsed and finally opened its archives to historians, a whole new perspective on World War II has opened up, revealing much more about the fascinating behind-the-scenes wrangling that went on between the Allies. Cruellest amongst the many reversals and broken promises was the betrayal of Poland and its abandonment to Stalin's grim clutches. Much more has been learned about Stalin himself, his obsession with personal power and the paranoia that led him to destroy, eventually, even those closest and most faithful to him. Each of the three world leaders, Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin, was devious in his own way, and rightfully distrustful of the others. For those who, like me, find this period of 20th century history to be a source of endless fascination, this series is a compelling addition to the literature.

Wait, I'm not done yet with World War II... Ellie recently discovered a truly delightful novel called The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society and passed it on to me. I finished it just last night ("couldn't put it down") with the kind of pleasure you always get from an excellent piece of writing, no matter what the topic. This one is about the Nazi-occupied Channel Islands, in the English Channel between England and France. Guernsey and Jersey are the largest islands in this little archipelago, seized by the Germans as a staging area for their planned invasion. The novel takes the form of an exchange of letters between an English writer in search of a subject for her next book and the handful of islanders who found companionship and refuge from the privations of the time in their accidentally-born "society" of readers. Each of the characters is charmingly evoked through his or her own recollections, not to mention their individual style of correspondence. What burns through everything is the extraordinary bond of love--often unspoken, in the British way, but powerfully evoked; along with the healing quality of mutual tolerance and the saving grace of humor. Reading and writing, these wonderful characters show us, not only open up the human mind to previously unknown possibilities, they also change our lives.

In the meantime, let's not forget the British servicemen and women whose dedication went a long way to saving Europe from the Hitler's hideous scourge. And, yes, why not...? I'm no royalist, but in this case... Long live the Queen! She should have been invited to the party.

1 comment:

TaraDharma said...

Peter, I just started reading the White House blog, and the D-Day ceremonies and speakers were very moving. What a difference it makes to have Obama represent our land: I feel pride again internationally.