NORMAN Davies, writing in the New York Review of Books...

salmagundi

June 06, 1994

NORMAN Davies, writing in the New York Review of Books, has this to say about commemorations of D-Day:

"Nineteen ninety-four, the fiftieth anniversary of the D-Day landings, has spawned a festival of what A. J. P. Taylor once called 'the Nuremberg Consensus.' Taylor was pointing to the fact that the history of World War II had largely been written by the victors, and that the moral and political assumptions of the victorious Allies had been largely left unchallenged. And he was right. Fifty years after the main fighting stopped, most British and Americans still imagine the war as defined by the aims of the Grand Alliance. Hitler is seen as the sole aggressor in Europe, as the Japanese were in the Pacific; Germany, and Germany's associates, as 'the enemy.' The unconditional defeat of fascism was the prime objective. The solidarity of the Allied powers, expressed in the comradeship of 'The Big Three,' held paramount importance. The Allies were waging a heroic struggle for the Good. Freedom and democracy were identified with 'anti-fascism.' When it came to judging the crimes of war, and the crimes against humanity the victors did not hesitate to fill the dock with enemy leaders, and with enemy leaders alone.

"Few history books have strayed from the set pattern. What one might call the Allied scheme of history dominates conventional wisdom. It was built on the black-and-white dialectic of wartime, and perpetuates the simplistic morality where all who opposed evil were ipso facto virtuous. The most prominent dissenters have been the wild German dramatist Rolf Hochhuth, who wanted us to believe that Churchill was a murderer, individuals who have not hidden their sympathies for fascism, and critics of particular actions, such as the Allied bombing offensive which destroyed Dresden and Hamburg or the forced repatriation of the Cossack Brigade. Though plenty of evidence exists to suggest a different interpretation of what happened between 1939 and 1945, it is kept in separate compartments and is not allowed to disturb the overall design. One has to conclude that winning a major war is not conducive to understanding it. . . .

"Celebration of the Allied victory in Normandy will do little to shake the entrenched Western consensus. One can only hope that by the time the world celebrates the fiftieth anniversary of peace in 1995, or the fiftieth anniversary of the Nuremberg Tribunal between 1996 and 1997, there will be room for a more reflective and imaginative approach.

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