A Frenchman's View of the Meaning of D-Day

Roundup: Talking About History

Andre Glucksman, in the WSJ (June 4, 2004):

... It wasn't until the middle of the 1970s that a President of the Federal Republic clearly and distinctly admitted that Germany had been "liberated" rather than "invaded" at the end of the Second World War. It was to display the crucial difference between these two words that people -- both close to me and foreign -- gave their lives in Lyon, Omaha beach, and Stalingrad....

The right of people to be liberated from extreme despotism -- the right to D-Day -- overcomes the usual respect for borders and the age-old principle of sovereignty. In regards to the universal declaration of human rights, and with our knowledge of totalitarianism, the essential right of the people to self-determination must not guarantee nor imply a right of the rulers to dispose of their people. The landing in Normandy justifies the recent interventions in Kosovo, in Afghanistan and in Iraq, even without Security Council authorization. For one decisive reason: the original legitimacy that presided over the creation of the U.N. prevails in authority over the ordinary jurisprudence of the institutions that have stemmed from it. Furthermore, the recent 10th anniversary of the Tutsi genocide in Rwanda lets no one forget the terrible fiascos committed by the U.N. And not least that its boss, Kofi Annan, pleads, in vain, for a radical reform of international institutions and legislation.

Can the United States still claim a right of interference, baptized in the bloodshed to liberate Europe? Yes. Despite the ignominies committed in Iraqi prisons; morally unbearable, politically counterproductive and strategically absurd, for which they bear the entire responsibility? Yes. Because as at its worst as at its best, the United States remains a democracy. And the most exemplary one. The only one to my knowledge that, in the midst of war, does not censure the publication of crimes committed by its soldiers. The only one where the press and the television reveal within a few weeks the scope of the wrongs, and freely scrutinizes the consequences from the disaster. The only one where Congressional committees summon a president, secretaries, generals, heads of secret services, and interrogate them unabashed and without restrictions.

Let me remind here that France, so generous at giving lessons, has not in forty years indicted, judged or condemned a single one of the soldiers who committed torture during the Algeria war. It was only in the year 2000 that the so-called "events" (1954-61) were officially called a "war" by parliament. It was 50 years after the game was over, in 1995, that the President admitted the Republic's responsibility for what occurred between 1940 and 1945. And to this day, 10 years after the events, and in contrast to Belgium, the U.N., and Washington, our country still refuses, from left to right wing, to grant any apologies to the Tutsis who suffered through genocide. This is what elevates us, the French, to moral heights inaccessible to those dunces, the Yankees, afflicted with an insolent press, a questioning Senate and rulers obliged to open-up their files and explain themselves in real time.

Elsewhere, listen to the difference, silence rules. April 2004. First video: systematic torture, eyes plucked out, presumed fighters dismembered, pyramids of bodies. Second video: the deliberate execution of a mother with her five children (ages one to seven) around Chatoi (Chechnya). Two testimonies filmed by Russian soldiers sickened by the accomplishments of their comrades. One newspaper in Moscow, the Novaya Gazeta alone, publishes the pictures. Not a wave. Silence on the radio, silence on TV, silence in the justice system, not a word from the military and the political hierarchy, the world stays mute. George W. Bush is greeted by protests, Vladimir Putin like a brother.

To this day, the American citizen is alone to dare scrutinize, judge and condemn on the spot the deeds committed in his name. America isn't populated with angels, but it remains the leading nation fighting for the defense of human rights, because more than anywhere else it gives itself the means to reveal and hence to condemn their violation. Human rights measure our capacity to resist the inhuman, resist the evil that faces us, and the devil we carry within.

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