Article - remembrance and learning from the past

The horrors of war are far more ghastly than many of the dangerously romanticised depictions of them all too frequently allow us to believe. The unbearable suffering caused by bullets and bombs, parents consumed by the grief of losing children, and lives distorted by fear have been features of warfare throughout the ages. But modern warfare, with its vast capacities for the destruction of life is yet more terrible than its ancient, mediaeval and early modern predecessors. 

These are things that we are rightly called upon to remember each Remembrance Sunday - and they come flooding back into our minds when we witness the moving tributes to those who fell in the D-Day landings. But the recent D-Day ceremonies have two more messages for those of us who have been lucky enough to inherit the world that they made possible. 

The first of these messages is that, though many victories are at best morally equivocal, some do genuinely represent a triumph of good over evil. 

I would certainly not want to attempt any eulogy over Plessey, Blenheim or Agincourt though famous victories and fine examples of generalship, it would be difficult to find any very convincing moral defence for them being fought or any very convincing account of the moral worth of the outcome. But D-Day was different. Here, good did triumph over evil. The defeat of Nazism that D-Day made possible was unequivocally a benefit for mankind.

But the second message is, if anything, deeper and more pertinent to our current circumstances. It is that the fabric of human civilisation is fragile. The awful sequence of catastrophes that led to Nazism and the Second World War - the wholly unnecessary conflict of the First World War, and the appallingly ungenerous treatment of Germany and Austria by the victors in that war - is well known. But it is easy to forget. 

The remembrance of D-Day should serve to remind us that the fragile construction of civilised life can be shattered by ill-conceived and ungenerous attitudes to the conduct of international relations. 

It was an uncomfortable irony to see the unmistakable figure of President Trump presiding over the ceremonies, given the fact that his ill-conceived conduct of relations between the world’s two great superpowers at present is worryingly reminiscent of the terrible mistakes that were made when, instead of a dominant United States seeking to defend its global hegemony against a rising China, the British Empire was seeking to defend its global hegemony against a rising Germany. 

I hope that, as the President of our great ally, the United States, observed the solemn proceedings of the D-Day memorial, he reflected on the grave danger to humanity that is caused by an escalation of tensions between great powers. I fear, however, that this - in the end, the most important lesson of D-Day - may have escaped his attention. 

I fear that the President may instead have been attending to the morally unequivocal victory of good over evil that was represented by victory against Hitler. That, too, is an important point to be remembered at all times. Blitzkreig and the gas chambers were monstrosities without redeeming features, and we should always be ready to take on such evil and to defeat it, even at great cost. But we should remember, too, our responsibility in conditions of peace to promote the continuation of peaceful coexistence.