Canadians are rightfully proud of their soldiers’ contributions in the D-Day landings at Normandy, the 70th anniversary of which were celebrated to great fanfare last week. The bravery of Allied troops who took part in the largest amphibious operation in military history is indisputable and the respect accorded to veterans of that battle is richly deserved.
At the same time, the patriotic mythology that has developed in North America and Western Europe has blown out of all proportion the significance of that battle in the larger context of the Second World War.
Bolstered by Hollywood productions such as Saving Private Ryan, the distorted status of Operation Overlord is best summed up by the cover of a recent commemorative issue of Life magazine, which dubbed D-Day “The Battle That Won The War.”
Easily overlooked is the fact that the main purpose of the Normandy landings was to open up a second front against Nazi Germany. The first front lay in Eastern Europe, where by 1944 Germany and the Soviet Union had already been engaged in conflict for three long and bloody years (Germany also had smaller forces in Italy and Africa).
It was in the East where some of the most titanic battles in human history were fought, and where the fate of Europe was truly decided. It was at the Battle of Stalingrad that Hitler’s war machine suffered its first major defeat. It was in the arguably even more decisive Battle of Kharkov in 1943 -- the largest tank battle in history -- that the tide of the war finally turned inexorably against the Third Reich.
It takes nothing away from the sacrifices of Canadian veterans to put their accomplishments in the wider context of the decisive Soviet contribution to the Allied victory in Europe.
On the contrary, by acknowledging that the Western Allies were part of a larger fight against the Axis powers, we gain a greater perspective into our own soldiers’ contributions as part of an international alliance against fascism.
Sadly, even as world leaders gathered in France recently to mark the anniversary of the Normandy landings, the dark spectre of fascist barbarism is re-emerging in Ukraine -- and the reaction of Canadian politicians is positively frightening.
Almost all of the national Canadian politicians who offered their thanks to D-Day veterans also support the current regime in Kiev -- a government that came to power on the backs of Ukrainian neo-Nazi groups such as Svoboda and the Right Sector.
Steeped in anti-Semitism and Russophobic ultra-nationalism, sporting swastikas and SS-like runes, these parties openly praise Second World War-era Nazi collaborators such as the Ukrainian nationalist Stepan Bandera and the SS “Galicia” division.
These latter-day fascists are responsible for atrocities such as the horrific May 2 massacre in Odessa, in which more than 40 “pro-Russian” protesters were burned alive inside a trade union building.
Not one of the Canadian politicians who praised the sacrifices of D-Day veterans in defeating fascism has explained their own support for a government that relies on neo-Nazis to violently crush opponents of the Kiev regime.
Perversely, it is Putin, the leader of Russia, who is routinely denounced by these same politicians as the “new Hitler” -- the latest in a long line of new Hitlers (a term applied to every foreign leader targeted for sanctions or military intervention by the Western powers).
If Canadians are to truly honour the sacrifices of our veterans, it is our duty to hold to account our leaders who enable Hitler’s modern-day heirs and to return fascism to the dustbin of history where it belongs.
Prince Albert Daily Herald