Blair’s betrayal of the D-Day veterans

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By : Neil Berry

It is ironic that the fresh upheaval in Iraq has come soon after the 70th anniversary celebrations of “D-Day,” the invasion of northern France by British and US forces on June 6, 1944 that heralded the final defeat of Nazi Germany and the end of the Second World War.

D-Day represented a great military and moral triumph — though it must also be acknowledged that the Soviet Union played a no less crucial part in vanquishing Nazism. Few could fail to be touched by the spectacle of now frail D-Day veterans gathering in Normandy to commemorate the heroic contribution that they made to the liberation of Europe.

Yet D-Day has cast a long and fateful shadow, not least where recent Anglo-US policy in the Middle East is concerned. As he pressed for the toppling of the Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein in the run-up to the Iraq War in 2003, Britain’s then Prime Minister Tony Blair plainly saw himself as resuming the fight against fascism spearheaded by the legendary British wartime leader Winston Churchill. It may be that Blair, currently re-affirming his faith in what can be accomplished by military force, derives inspiration from Churchill still. Certainly Churchill was the ultimate British exemplar of unapologetic bellicosity, especially when it came to dealing with Arabs.

The Anglo-American struggle against Nazism was invoked ad nauseam in 2003 by Blair and US President George W. Bush, with Saddam Hussein portrayed as threatening western freedom just as Adolph Hitler once did. Already, it was pointed out, he was guilty of genocide; he must not be given the chance to do evil on the scale of Hitler. Blair and Bush referred to the disastrous policy of “appeasement” in the 1930s, making much of the need to avoid the mistake of Churchill’s despised prime ministerial predecessor, Neville Chamberlain, who tried to pre-empt war by negotiating with Hitler.

If Blair saw himself as a latter-day Churchill, George W. Bush was similarly ready to assume the role of Franklin D. Roosevelt, the US president with whom Churchill planned the D-Day operation. (Whether out of vanity or to underscore the historic pedigree of their partnership, Blair lent Bush a bronze bust of Churchill normally kept in 10 Downing Street.)

Cynics may wonder how far the two leaders ever truly believed that they were saving the free world in the face of a new Hitler. Even before it became apparent that Saddam Hussein possessed no “weapons of mass destruction,” nobody could have seriously supposed that Iraq, crippled by years of punitive western sanctions, remotely resembled the Nazi war machine.

Blair and Bush alike were acutely aware that they confronted a king-size PR challenge in persuading international opinion of the legitimacy of launching a pre-emptive war against Iraq. Bush, it is true, had a relatively easy task in selling war to a US public hungering for vengeance in the wake of 9/11, but Blair, faced with an altogether more skeptical British public, was obliged to resort to extravagantly emotive rhetoric, an overblown mixture of scare-mongering and visionary optimism. Emphasising the menacing Hitlerian aspect of Saddam Hussein, he also — in a desperate attempt to win the support of liberal Britain — flagged up the peace dividend that removing him would yield. Breathtakingly absurd as it now seems, he contended that ousting the Iraqi dictator would pave the way for a solution to the Palestine-Israel conflict.

This year the UK is pre-occupied with remembering the wars that it fought in the 20th Century. The 70th anniversary of D-Day will be followed in August by the 100th anniversary of the beginning of the First World War. The official message is that British people must never forget the sacrifices made by their forbears to overcome German aggression in the name of freedom. Yet what should not be forgotten, either, is how in the 21st Century, while proclaiming their humanitarian intentions, the UK and the US became perpetrators of just the kind of unprovoked military aggression they once purported to hold in abhorrence.

The truth is that, in concert with George W. Bush, Tony Blair betrayed the legacy of the D-Day veterans, helping to further not the cause of freedom but lawlessness.

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