France Unwisely Snubs Germany on D-Day Observance

By William Pfaff Copyright Los Angeles Times Syndicate | St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO), March 14, 1994 | Go to article overview

France Unwisely Snubs Germany on D-Day Observance


William Pfaff Copyright Los Angeles Times Syndicate, St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)


As Friedrich Schiller, the 18th century German poet, once wrote, "Even the Gods struggle vainly against stupidity." It is a judgment appropriate to the French government's decision once again to exclude Germany from the ceremonies commemorating the Allied landings in Normandy. The half-century commemoration will be held in June.

The situation of the democracies today - confronted with turmoil in the East, war in the Balkans, trade rivalries, political resentments - is too fragile to afford gratuitous affront to Germany, a nation that is going through a traumatic reassessment of its place in international society.

French President Francois Mitterrand said in January that some gesture would be made elsewhere to demonstrate that Germany "is the friend of France and has entered the camp of the democracies" - as if either point were in doubt. There has been no subsequent indication of what that gesture elsewhere might be.

Since Germany's leaders have not been invited to Normandy in June, Chancellor Helmut Kohl has reportedly forbidden German diplomats to be there. The mayors of several Normandy towns had planned to invite not only the German ambassador to France but the officials of German localities "twinned" with Normandy towns.

The mayor of Caen said, "The commemoration of the Omaha Beach landing recalls the 6th of June battle, but this has to be distinguished from peace ceremonies meant to transcend the war." He noted that the German flag flies permanently, with those of the wartime Allies, over Caen's own peace memorial.

One understands the logic, but not the wisdom, of the exclusion. Its effect is to identify the Normandy victory as over the German nation, not over Nazism, and that is the last thing one should do. It feeds a perception in Germany that the integration of the Western democratic powers is breaking down, with Germany isolated, in troubled circumstances.

Germany has lost three fundaments of its postwar security: Europe's division, with West Germany safely integrated in NATO; Germany's division, with West Germany the United States' main European ally; and confidence in western Europe's continuing integration. …

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