Tuesday, June 1, 2004

Of Anniversaries


D-Day, the Sixth of June! Brace yourselves, this may be your "Longest Weekend," one marking the 60th anniversary of that great enterprise at Normandy that opened the western front in the liberation of Europe.

Like last week's dedication of Washington's long overdue World War II Memorial, the commemoration at Normandy this weekend will probably be another "final mission" or last reunion for the veterans of D-Day. They deserve a salute and a chance to mourn in silence, for they did a good thing for which we should all be grateful.

I chose those words carefully - "mourn" and "commemoration." "Celebration" is a bit too flip, too removed from the actual event, from the feelings of those who lived through it, and those who died. Those who were actually there and lost a buddy will, above all, mourn. That's why one sees so many old men - and a few women - crying at such events. Oh, some will probably prefer to speak of "celebration;" jingoists usually do. And then there will be the present-day politicians, whose presence is invariably a tolerated intrusion. I urge them, however, to exercise extreme caution this year, lest their hyperbole intrude beyond tolerable limits. It would, for example, be in intolerable bad taste for our President to again equate the invasion of Iraq with World War II or to seek to equate the liberation of Iraq with the liberation of France. Mr. President, remember you are speaking in France.

This year's anniversary also comes at a dicey time for Americans and European-American relations. It would behoove us behave a little more modestly than we have in the past year and more. John Wayne and Tom Selleck aside, we didn't win the war single-handedly. Nor were we the only ones to suffer. As you reflect this weekend on the victory at Normandy, I urge you to think also - however briefly - about the contributions of our allies - the British who fought alone for two years, the Soviets who lost 20 million between Stalingrad and Berlin, and the Canadians - yes, the Canadians - who stormed ashore at Sword and Juno beaches and who, by war's end, had the world's third largest navy. Such is the value of allies, a word we seem to have forgotten.

And let's not forget the Germans, whose boys, although misled, fought just as courageously and just as honorably and died just as miserably. They sleep at Normandy and elsewhere in seldom-visited cemeteries close to ours. And somber places they are, the graves marked not by bright white markers, but dark, rough-hewn granite crosses. I wonder, in this regard, whether PBS will reprise its 50th anniversary film that featured Lauren Bacall and a startling ending. Check it out after "The Longest Day."

Tiananmen Square

D-Day is an anniversary close to my heart. I graduated from the Naval Academy on June 6, 1962. How could I forget. But there's another anniversary this weekend that I can't forget. Friday, June 4 is the 15th anniversary of the massacre at Tiananmen Square.

1989 was a momentous year. The Berlin Wall came tumbling down – not as a result of Mr. Reagan's words, but at the hands of the German people, individual Berliners with sledge hammers - and communism crumbled from within throughout Eastern Europe.

How soon we forgot that, in the spring of 1989, this urge to freedom burned brightest not in Europe, but among the students and workers of China. Remember that white Statue of Freedom looking so much like that green one in New York Harbor? Remember those students talking freely, so full of hope, with Dan Rather and Bette Bao Lord in the square? Remember those "official" television reporters on CCTV, reporting at last freely, professionally, joyfully about the real news taking place in their country? Remember that faceless, nameless democrat facing down that tank? Remember the pulling of the plugs on western television crews? The god-awful scenes of tanks rolling over bleeding bodies in the middle of the night? The years of silence?

Isn't it time to end that silence? Isn't it time to stand with the democrats of Hong Kong who are today carrying on the struggle of 1989? Isn't it time to tell Beijing - and Shanghai - that it may "Be Glorious to Be Rich," but that is not enough. Communist capitalism is not an oxymoron; it is fascism."

The Occupation of Palestine

Lest we forget in the midst of these particularly signal anniversaries, there is another that calls for introspection this weekend. Saturday, June 5 marks the 37th anniversary of the 1967 Six-Day War, that paradigm for pre-emptive war and the beginning of Israel's occupation of Palestine.

I won't trouble you here with all the bloody history that has stained the Holy Land since then. If you'd like a good history book, send me an e-mail; I'll send you a bibliography. Let me just say that occupation is always ugly, especially when the occupied are displaced and their homes and shops and institutions - and dignity - are crushed under the bulldozers of collective punishment. In the rubble of such actions you will invariably find the seeds of hatred, resistance, and, yes, terrorism. Terrorism, dear friends, does not occur in a vacuum.

I pray each night that Israel will see the light and make peace with its "enemy." After all, one can only make peace with enemies. There is no need to make peace with friends, and there is no possibility of making peace with quislings who represent no one. I take heart in knowing that there are many in Israel who understand this - probably a majority - and who have the courage to act on it. Those courageous Israelis deserve our support.

As an American, however, I must insist that our government embargo the shipment to Israel and condemn the use by the IDF of such American-manufactured tools of oppression as Apache helicopters and Caterpillar bulldozers. I, moreover, urge our government to re-involve itself in a true peace effort and demonstrate at long last a true even-handedness in bringing the two parties together. If we do, perhaps we will not be faced with "celebrating" the 40th anniversary of this war and occupation, still wondering why Arabs hate us and why there are still terrorists out there.

I hope to see many of you Saturday, June 5 at the march in The City against the war in Iraq and the occupation of Palestine. It begins at 11:00 a.m. at United Nations Plaza and will proceed to the Embarcadero for speeches and music at 1:00 p.m.

Anybody Out There?

Forgive me this unrelated query. I increasingly feel I'm spinning my wheels here. And so I must ask: Is there anybody out there? Do you care? If you do, won't you drop me an e-mail? The address is vgray54951@aol.com. A simple "I'm here" will do.

Happy anniversaries. Have a nice weekend.


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