The Normandy campaign - GulfToday

The Normandy campaign

Michael Jansen

The author, a well-respected observer of Middle East affairs, has three books on the Arab-Israeli conflict.


US President Joe Biden with Scott Desjardins, Superintendent of the Normandy American Cemetery, before speaking at Pointe du Hoc on June 7.

Many years ago, a friend and I visited the five beaches on France’s Normandy coast where allied forces landed on June 6, 1944, to launch the combined offensive against the Nazis in Europe. Before dawn, while US paratroopers landed inland, the US 1st Army stormed onto Omaha and Utah beaches and the British 2nd Army consisting of British and Canadian troops charged ashore at Gold, Juno, and Sword beaches.

The total invading force, under overall command of US General Dwight Eisenhower, was just under 132,000. More than 4,500 were killed and 5,500 were missing. The landings, dubbed Operation Overlord, played a key role in the Normandy campaign which compelled a partial Nazi retreat by the end of August, withdrawal from France and the allied advance toward Germany.

We began at the vast Coleville-sur-Mer cemetery where the 10,000 US troops who died in the Normandy campaign were buried, their graves marked with white marble Christian crosses and Jewish stars of David. Near the cemetery are a memorial, its walls bearing maps of World War II battles, and a reflecting pool complete with water lilies.

From Omaha we went to Utah, Gold, Juno and Sword beaches and the three British military cemeteries dedicated to the soldiers who died while liberating the city of Caen.

Last week, more than 20 heads of state, veterans of the landings, and celebrities attended the 80th anniversary commemorations of the D-Day landings. Among the attendees were French President Emmanuel Macron, US President Joe Biden, and British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak.

Conspicuous by his absence was Russian President Vladimir Putin who was not invited for D-Day although the Soviet Union’s leader Joseph Stalin played an existential role in the war. After initially signing a non-aggression pact with Stalin in 1939, Germany invaded Russia and threatened Moscow during the winter of 1941. Stalin commanded a counter-offensive which routed the Germans before joining forces with the Allies to win the war. Stalin also won the peace by imposing Communist regimes on Eastern Europe and launching the 46-year long Cold War against the West.

Putin was not included because of the Ukraine war he mounted in February 2022 with the aim of forcing Kyiv to renounce its ambition to join NATO, the Western alliance which he and many Russians consider as the major threat to Russia. Instead of inviting Putin, organisers asked Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky who was armed with a begging bowl and a list of weapons he needs for his NATO-backed war against Russia.

If Putin had been included, the D-Day ceremonies might have been an occasion to address his concerns about the eastwards expansion of NATO and to launch negotiations for a ceasefire and peace settlement between Russia and Ukraine. It has become a hot front in a renewed conflict with Russia which is regarded by some Western and East European leaders as their old enemy, the dismantled Soviet Union.

Commenting on today’s politicians attending D-Day commemorations, war veteran Harry Stewart, nearing 100 years of age, shook his head and said they were not up to the World War II leaders. Stewart served with the all-African American Tuskegee Airmen and rose to the rank of lieutenant colonel.

Macron, Biden, and Sunak are sorry replacements for French President Charles De Gaulle, three-times US President Franklin D. Roosevelt, celebrated British Prime Minister Winston Churchill. De Gaulle led the Free French during World War II and ended French colonial rule in Algeria in 1962. Roosevelt guided the US out of the Great Depression and propelled the reluctant US into the war in Europe after Germany’s ally Japan bombed Hawaii in December 1941. Thanks to Churchill, Britain survived the Nazi blitz and became the backbone of the Western alliance which defeated Germany.

Now in his second term, Macron is in a precarious situation. He has called a snap election for July 7th in response to the right-wing National Rally’s win of 32 per cent of the vote in Sunday’s election for members of the European Parliament. This was double the vote for Macron’s Renaissance party. While in office, he has promoted presidential primacy, carried out limited reforms and promised to battle corruption, and make France the power broker of the European Union. Four prime ministers have served at his pleasure.

Meanwhile, the National Rally (NR) under Marine Le Pen has been gaining influence, following a rightwards trend in some other European countries. A main cause for this shift is hostility towards migration from this region and Africa. Last year former French presidents Francois Hollande and Nicolas Sarkozy told the French daily Le Monde that the country was “living through its worst democratic crisis since the 1930s,” largely due to the RN’s rising power and popularity.

Low key Biden, 81, is a faltering figure who has not managed to earn credit for his positive policies. Unlike his predecessor Donald Trump, Biden seriously tackled the covid epidemic which killed 1 million US citizens between 2020-2022. Biden boosted the economy, cut inflation, rebuilt aging infrastructure, and promoted green policies. His approval rating hovers around 39-40 per cent. His decision to provide arms and funds to Israel for its brutal, deadly offensive against Gaza has alienated Democratic voters among educated youth and Afro-US and Arab/Muslim communities. His refusal to call a ceasefire in Gaza until late May and exercise US leverage on Israel to halt the Gaza war could cost him re-election in November.

Britain’s first prime minister of Indian origin Rishi Sunak created a scandal by leaving D-Day ceremonies early to campaign for his Conservative party which is trailing Labour in opinion polls ahead of the July 4th election. He was compelled to apologise for disrespecting and politicising the event. The Conservatives, who have been in power for 14 years, are seen as being out of touch with the British public. Sunak has followed unpopular policies adopted by his predecessor Boris Johnson, sent weapons and money to Ukraine, and backed Israel in its war on Gaza.

Photo: TNS

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