Monday, January 19, 2004

Playing Politics With D-Day

Glad to see that even the New York Times feels that there's something offensive about Chirac's decision to invite Schröder to the D-Day celebrations. A more blatant display of ingratitude could hardly be imagined.

his June, for the first time, a German chancellor will attend ceremonies in Normandy marking the anniversary of D-Day. Gerhard Schröder has declared himself "very pleased" at the invitation he received from President Jacques Chirac of France to join other leaders for the 60th anniversary of the Allied landings. On the face of it, this appears to be a welcome signal that Europe has put its last great war behind it, and that the Germans are now viewed as an integral part of the European family. Ten years ago, Helmut Kohl, then chancellor of Germany, was frustrated in his efforts to secure just such an invitation.

Still, there's something not quite right with this picture. It's not that the Germans need to be ceaselessly reminded of their Nazi past. Few nations in history have so sincerely and deeply looked into the evils of their past and worked as hard to come to terms with them. Germany is, and deserves to be, a full and equal partner in everything Europe does, without being made to feel that it bears a permanent taint. The trouble is that Mr. Chirac's invitation smacks more of politics than reconciliation. France and Germany have found common cause on a number of issues of late, ranging from the invasion of Iraq to the future of the European Union, and Mr. Chirac was apparently anxious to parade this alliance.

The ceremonies in Normandy are meant to honor the Americans, British and Canadians who stormed the beaches on June 6, 1944, dying by the thousands to liberate France and the rest of Europe from a German yoke. No one who has visited the Allied cemeteries in Normandy, row after row of graves, can fail to be moved by this sacrifice. This is therefore not the place for France and Germany to play a political duet, any more than the anniversary of the terror attacks of Sept. 11 is an event for the Republican Party to co-opt for its political convention.

Apart from the obvious fact that playing politics with such anniversaries is an insult to their heroes and victims, doing so is counterproductive. There are plenty of venues where Mr. Chirac could demonstrate, and has demonstrated, his rapport with Mr. Schröder. At the D-Day commemorations, the German chancellor will only prompt the sort of commentaries and reactions so memorably spoofed in the "Fawlty Towers" television show: "Just don't mention the war!" However admirable Germany's soul searching, World War II still hangs heavily over all European activities. It was painfully obvious in the outcry when Silvio Berlusconi, the Italian prime minister, referred to a German heckler as a concentration-camp guard, and when Poland reacted angrily to Germany's objections to the size of Poland's vote in the E.U.

The Fawlty Towers reference is particularly on the mark. Chirac must be thoroughly lacking in both shame and historical awareness to parade his new alliance with the three-time (1870, 1914, 1940) invaders of his nation in front of the leaders of the very nations that twice saved the French from German subjugation.