Biden should have listened to veterans instead of rambling on in his D-Day speech

President Joe Biden was in Normandy in France this week for the 80th anniversary of the D-Day landings on June 6 in which he gave a speech that drew a parallel between the war against Nazi Germany which had subjugated the whole of Europe and Russia’s war on Ukraine.

According to Martin Sixsmith, who speaks Russian and knows a lot about Russia and Ukraine and recently wrote a book titled ‘Putin and the return of history’, the origins of the war in Ukraine go back a long way. “Well before the rise of Vladimir Putin, before Soviet communism, before even the Romanov tsars. They involve shared origins, and conflicted histories, sometimes the destructive influence of religion, culture and language, national aspirations and myths as well as the personal prejudices of men in positions of power.”

D-Day was part of the push from the west that was part of a planned attack from the flanks that was conceived at a summit in Teheran in 1943 between the US President Franklin Roosevelt, the Soviet Union’s Jospeh Stalin and Britain’s Winston Churchill to rid Europe of Nazi subjugation. Nazi Germany was a uniquely nasty and evil regime that preached racial superiority over the Slavs, extermination of the Jews and world domination. Russia’s war on Ukraine is not even remotely comparable.

The Normandy landings required meticulous logistical planning, courage and cunning. The Germans had strong defences on the west coast of France but were caught napping. Literally, because Hitler was fast asleep late into the morning as the Allies landed and metaphorically because the Germans were tricked into believing an invasion would be further north near Calais. 

Even the brilliant Field Marshall Erwin Rommel, commander of German forces in Normandy, was fooled. Not expecting any action he went to Germany to be with his wife on her birthday.

D-Day was successful and the Anglo Americans and Free French pushed the Germans from the west while the Russians pushed from the east and their victorious armies linked up in Berlin and danced and drank vodka and divided Germany and Berlin and fell out and clashed for 45 years in the Cold War.

The defeat of Nazi Germany would have been very difficult if the Germans did not have to fight the Russians in the east. And while D-Day celebrations without the Russian leadership was inevitable, owing to the bad relations between the West and Russia, it was ignoble and in breach of military honour that Russian veterans who fought Nazi Germany were not invited to share wartime memories with their veteran comrades in the West.

D-Day is about remembering all those who fought and died including 20 million Russians not because they consciously fought for freedom and democracy as Biden would have us believe, but because they had a job to do and orders to obey. Biden went on and on in his speech about being prepared to defend freedom and democracy, but the stories of the veterans who said that war is terrible and that political leaders have a responsibility to ensure it does not happen again and not sleepwalk the world into another big power conflict, were more convincing. A veteran even complained that D-Day celebrations stirred horrifying flashbacks he could do without.

Putin’s Russia and China’s Xi Jinping are not comparable to the Nazi gangsters. Russia withdrew from Europe and the former Soviet Union a lot more peacefully than the British and French withdrew from their empires and the Americans from Vietnam, and Iraq and Afghanistan.

The fact that Putin lamented the collapse of the Soviet Union does not mean he wants to restore the status quo ante. Many British politicians lamented withdrawal from empire but moved on after India became independent. After a last gasp at Suez in 1956 Britain settled for a diminished role and although the Russian Federation is a much bigger power it will probably do the same.

As for China, Europe and Japan messed it around for years before the Communist revolution of 1949 brought it self respect. China today aspires to be a great modern socialist country and opened up as a market economy amazingly well – too well for the US. It aims to become prosperous, strong, democratic, culturally advanced, harmonious and beautiful and why not?

It is a myth that freedom and democracy are suddenly under threat from Russia and China and that young people should be prepared to lay down their lives because fools like Biden want to speechify on D-Day that democracy is under attack. Actually if the quantum of democracy worldwide were measured by the number of elections in any one year, 2024 would be democracy year of the century.

States that already voted this year include, Bangladesh population 174 million; Indonesia 279 million: Pakistan 243 million; Iran 90 million; Russian Federation 144 million; South Africa 60 million; Mexico 129 million; and India 1,440 million.

Elections are pending between June 6-9 in the EU, population 449 million; on July 4 in the UK, population million 68 million; and on November 5 in the US, population 341 million, among many others.

Not all states score the same in the freedom and democracy scale but making a speech in 2024 that democracy is under threat the very year billions of people took part in elections sounded Orwellian. In any case it is a bit rich for the US that can only provide its people with a choice between a convicted felon and a sleepy octogenarian to preach the advantages of their liberal democracy to the Chinese and the Russians.

Alper Ali Riza is a king’s counsel in the UK and a retired part time judge