Sixty-eight years ago today the allied forces landed on the beaches of Normandy. Over 156,000 troops from nine countries, including Canada, under U.S. and British leadership launched a frontal assault against thousands of troops of the German Wehrmacht. To this date the D-Day landing stands out as the largest multi-national coordinated military operation the world has seen.
We owe it to the veterans of that battle to remember their contribution to history. Today we think of the 20th century as a century of unequalled scientific and technological progress. This view ignores the harsh reality that over a span of just 37 years in the first half of that century the world experienced two wars killing a staggering 75 million people: more than twice Canada’s current population! D-Day marks not only a turning point in that war; it marks a radical change in the direction of global relations.
D-Day marks the point where global political, economic, and defense strategies underwent a dramatic change in direction. Man’s destructive capabilities and capacities had reached unprecedented levels. Established global relations and their policies as applied in the first half of the century had to be abandoned, changed radically, if the world was to survive to see the next millennium.
The first initiative was the creation of the United Nations (UN) in 1945. The precursor to that organization, the League of Nations, was created in 1919 for the express purpose of preventing a repeat of a conflict such as the world had just witnessed. That an even deadlier and more devastating global conflict could explode only 20 years after the formation of the League of Nations speaks to the utter failure of that initiative. The lessons learned from that disaster were applied to the formation of the United Nations.
The second initiative, focused on economics, was the 1947 formation of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), predecessor to the World Trade Organization (WTO). The objective was to create a forum where trade relations could be negotiated and trade disputes resolved peacefully, thereby avoiding their escalation to armed conflict.
Two years later, in 1949, Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, France, and the United Kingdom signed the Treaty of Brussels, the precursor to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). The objective of this treaty was not only to provide a common defense, but also and of equal importance was the creation of a military organization that could forestall the escalation of political conflict between member nations into military conflict.
Finally in 1951, in Europe, the cradle of the two world wars, six nations voluntarily joined in the European Coal and Steel Union (ECSC). The idea of a common market under supra-national governance for coal and steel, two critical components of the armament industry, was proposed by French foreign minister Robert Schuman as a way to make a renewed war between France and Germany, Europe’s arch enemies, “not only unthinkable, but materially impossible.” The ECSC was the precursor to the European Economic Council (EEC) and its successor, the European Union (EU).
Today, 68 years after the landing of the allied troops on the beaches of Normandy, it is difficult to appreciate what our soldiers, as they disembarked from their landing crafts, were facing or, for that matter, what German soldiers defending their positions were facing. It is equally difficult to remember the established norm of international political, economic, and cultural relations of the time. Today we may question the purpose and cost of NATO, we may shake our head at the endless and seemingly futile palaver at the UN and its many agencies, and we may be frustrated by having our economic sovereignty curtailed by global rules.
The only purpose of these global organizations is to facilitate talk and negotiations so as to prevent war. None of these organizations are perfect; having been created by human beings, how could they be? It is in our best long-term interest to work with these organizations and to help improve their effectiveness.
If we allow these organizations to fail, we had better prepare for the only alternative to talk: another global war. By then the sacrifices by those who fought and died on D-Day will have been in vain.
Andre Carrel is a retired public sector administrator living in Terrace.