“We could not be bystanders”

Retrospective : this is a short article that I wrote ten years ago on my blog following my trip to Colleville s/Mer, where we were celebrating 65 years of the liberation of Europe on June 6, 2009, D-Day.

Colleville-sur-Mer : D-day observations, June 6th, 2009

Nicolas Sarkozy and his wife Carla were host to US President Barack Obama and his wife Michelle, as well as to Prime Minister Gordon Brown and his wife, as well the Canadian Prime Minister, Stephen Harper and Prince Charles, Prince of Wales representing the English monarchy.

Mr Sarkozy gave an eloquent, dignified yet very moving speech about how grateful France was for the 9,386 American troops that gave their lives 6,000 km from their home so that young men and women like them could know what it is like to be free. And every year we are reminded of the ultimate sacrifice made by the liberators towards the liberated in Coleville-sur-Mer, where D-day took place 65 years ago.

What does D-day mean? Nicolas Sarkozy defined it very well : “The battle of Normandy was the revenge of dismembered Czechoslovakia and Poland, of subservient Belgium and Holland and of France vanquished in five weeks. It was the revenge of Sedan, Dunkerque and Dieppe.”

Nicolas Sarkozy went on to ask: “What would have happened had you not come?” The fate of Europe might have been very different, had Nazism and Fascism been allowed to spread all the way to the Atlantic shores. As Barack Obama said later on in his speech, “…Nazi totalitarianism was not just a battle of competing interest. It was a competing vision of humanity.” A competing vision of humanity that suppressed those deemed different than the norm.

Mr Obama went on to say that the reason we continued to remember D-Day today was because of  “…the clarity of purpose with which this war was waged…this war was essential…” and Mr Sarkozy praised America for defending “the highest spiritual and moral values,”  for her fight for liberty, democracy and human rights, for her tolerance and her generosity.

 The “clarity of purpose” seems to be single in the two Presidents’ minds.

That “clarity of purpose” was and is indeed today the fight for democracy, liberty, shared prosperity and security, concepts that we today take for granted in the Western world. That the people’s voice can be heard,, that they can vote freely in democratic elections. These elections have become a litmus test of the politicians’ legitimacy to power. And that the people can have freedom of expression and religion. No religion should be imposed, no voice should be silenced, even when it contests the power in place as in Burma. That the people can work and make money off of their labors and not have to give all the goods back to the government, as in collective agriculture, the kolkhozes. And finally, that they can live a peaceful and tranquil life and not fear of their neighbor, of rebel forces, of foreign or domestic, rebellion invasions or incursions. Look at Irak today, at Afghanistan, at Lebanon, just to name a few, where the country is so fractioned, tribal, divided.

Does this clarity of purpose apply to Iraq, to Afghanistan? How many have thought that these two wars were unjustified, following on the attacks of September 11, 2001? Was there a clarity of purpose? Were the moral objectives of these wars at their highest levels, to speed democracy, liberty, prosperity and security? Was there a real competing vision of humanity to justify those two interventions?

At the end of World War II, the lessons learned brought forth a myriad of international institutions to safeguard against waging war in face of a conflict. Dialogue, consultations, councils, shuttle diplomacy, all sorts of different mechanism have been put in to place to ensure that there will never be WWIII. But as Mr Sarkozy underlined, that wars today will be of a different nature, with the nuclear nations looming, with famine spreading, inequality of income and globalization on the march.

Jus ad bellum and jus in bello have seen restraints put on their philosophical foundations, codified and magnified in a series of international agreements, The Geneva Conventions being amongst them, not to mention the International Court of Justice. And their objectives are clear : plus jamais ça. Never again a war like World War II. 
This shared objective, this shared purpose seems to have opened up a new era of understanding, of partnership and of friendship. The bond that transcends the Franco-American partnerships seemed to be solidified, underlined this day in Colleville-sur-Mer. We will certainly see this consolidated purpose propel us forward with the troop contributions and sacrifices of the ongoing war in Afghanistan, with the new French base in Abu Dhabi and with France’s return to the Allied Military command in NATO. These measures, these gestures should be considered as productive, as an expression of the French will to actively contribute to the collective security initiatives of the European and American allies and their prominent desire to enforce security on the periphery of the European Union.
The unity of the Allies represented here today inspired hope, friendship, and cooperation that never again there will be a war on European soil. It is evident that Europe is a priority for Mr Sarkozy and he will certainly not be a bystander, but a propeller to bring Europe forward, hand in hand with Mr Obama. Mr Obama has understood the importance of a strong Europe, one that can stand shoulder to shoulder with the United States, united in their combat of those shared virtues that have kept Europe free of war for 65 years.