Expert View

We must not desert the values fought for on D-Day

by David Hannay | 05.06.2019

David Hannay is a member of the House of Lords and former UK ambassador to the EU and UN.

As we commemorate the 75th anniversary of D-Day, we should both look back at an event which liberated Europe from fascism and look forward to the lessons for today. This is especially so given that the controversy surrounding the state visit of Donald Trump risks overshadowing the real and continuing significance of D-Day.

First and foremost, we should salute the courage and sacrifice of those Americans and Canadians and others who joined our own armed forces in a truly unprecedented military operation which led, a year later, to the liberation of Europe. Let us face it, they saved our bacon; and helped to deliver a victory which we could not have secured without their aid.

Are we sufficiently grateful? I doubt it. Why have we not, as the French have so generously done towards our own D-Day veterans, honoured all the surviving US veterans of D-Day? We should surely do so.

In the context of today we need to realise that the Anglo-American alliance remains as important to our continued security as it did then. This is easy to forget when the Trump administration takes a whole range of decisions which are contrary to our own view of our national interest – on policy towards Iran, on the UN, on climate change, on trade policy – and does so without paying much attention to our government’s views.

But we must not let our criticism of this administration metamorphose into that ugly brand of anti-Americanism which so disfigured our politics forty years or so ago. And we must do our best to ensure that the NATO summit to be held here in December strengthens the alliance and demonstrates its continuing validity.

And then there are the lessons of D-Day for our own place in Europe, of which we are an integral part, not just geographically, but culturally, economically and historically. Our failure to grasp the full implications of that in the 1920s and 1930s contributed to our having to fight our way ashore in Normandy 75 years ago. There are no direct analogies with the present day. But we need to realise that there is no EU-isolationist option available to us which would not damage our future prosperity and security.

And we do need to remember that D-Day was fought to uphold a range of values, eloquently set out in the Atlantic Charter drawn up by Franklin D. Roosevelt and Winston Churchill two years or so before and which became those of the United Nations when it was founded in 1945 – of democracy, of freedom of thought and speech, of the rule of law and many others.

Amidst a lot of loose talk about the rebirth of nationalism, we need to remember that our compatriots died to uphold those values. We must not desert them now.

This article has been adapted from a speech delivered in the House of Lords on June 4.

Edited by Luke Lythgoe

3 Responses to “We must not desert the values fought for on D-Day”

  • The European Project which started after World War 2 had as its main objective the maintenance of peace in Europe. In 2012 the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to the EU for its outstanding role in achieving peace in Europe and reconciliation between its member states. Tragically, this achievement, the veritable objective of Europe’s Founding Fathers, is not understood or recognized by many people, including those at the highest levels of government. And the UK is now proposing to walk away from the institution which has done more than any other to bring peace to the European continent.

  • The EU is not democratic, they do not show us the respect we are owed for being the pivotal part of the freedom they have enjoyed since 1945. Without this country the Nazis would still control all of europe! that is the bottom line!

  • Whilst not for a minute wanting to diminish the heroic sacrifices of our young men taking in part in the D Day operation, I think that after 75 years, the time has come to hear more from the German side. I noticed that coverage on the tv and radio was almost exclusively from an Allied perspective. There is no question that the Allies were upholding the values of freedom and democracy against the tyranny of the Hitler regime, but there is also a human side to the story for regular German soldiers. They will have been as relieved as anyone at the ending of hostilities.

    By giving a greater platform to German war experiences, the spirit of mutual purpose in saying ‘never again’ would be strengthened. Particularly, given the tragedy of our current Government’s wish, that we distance ourselves from Europe.