This week the country, and much of Europe, Canada and the USA, have been commemorating the 75th anniversary of the D-Day landings on Normandy, which heralded the end of WWII’s war in Europe within the following nine months.
Many of us, from the baby-boomers (ie those born in the immediate aftermath of the war, when the soldiers came home to build their families) onwards, have little idea of what war means, and certainly not what full-scale, worldwide conflict entails. It’s said that the hell of the D-Day landings has been visualised best by the opening sequence of ‘Saving Private Ryan’ but I doubt even that can have described the carnage fully and accurately. In all the commemoration, only the veterans have spoken faithfully about the hell that erupted around them, and the one who said that politicians didn’t belong there this week actually broke my heart with a profound sense of truth. Today we know better than ever that politicians make wars, but somehow never seem to suffer personally from their consequences.
There have been so many smaller wars, from Korea and Vietnam/Cambodia and Afghanistan, not missing out the Falklands conflict and the troubles in Northern Ireland, the Serbo-Croatian episode in Europe, the prolonged challenges in the Middle East and the persistent attacks on the Kurds, indeed the numerous and seemingly unending conflicts throughout Africa, but as Yuval Noah Harari the Israeli historian, notes in his recent book Sapiens: A brief history of humankind, we ourselves have lived in an historic time of relative peace worldwide. Yet the Chinese artist dissident Ai Weiwei’s film ‘Human Flow’ documents the ceaseless forced migration of people from areas of conflict and famine, which is a devastating record of our time, as some 70 million souls today (that’s the equivalent of the entire population of the UK, isn’t it?) are at any given point seeking or in refuge somewhere in the world today.
How did we get to be so lucky, especially here in the north of England, in this land that time has forgotten (and how we like it that way!), to escape much of these troubling examples of human conflict? How do we get to enjoy our lives here, troubling national and international politics notwithstanding, so that we can cheerfully contemplate completing this year-long diary documenting life, life, in this village?
The only answer I can come up with, to this question of our good fortune, and not incidentally the best sort of tribute I can imagine to the soldiers who perished on the sands of Normandy, is to live our lives fully, consciously, in deep partnership with our friends on the continent and from North America, and to ensure that these ties of cooperation are maintained so that the 75 years hence from hell will stretch on to 100, 150, 200 years and counting, of peace throughout this hemisphere and from there to the greater world.