VETERANS attending the 70th anniversary commemorations of the D-Day landings of the Allied armies in France should be more than just recipients of deserved thanks and admiration.
They are a sobering reminder that what may seem like distant history to many is still very much a living story, with echoes to be heard in contemporary ears and lessons to be acted on now.
Watching the commemorations unfold yesterday on placid seas in bright sunshine, with stately fly-pasts and purring vessels watched by relaxed civilians and ramrod-straight soldiers in their smartest uniforms, what was happening 70 years ago seems utterly unimaginable.
Then, the sea, the beach and the towns were torn by shot and shell, men were being killed and horribly maimed, and humanity was being shredded. Those who survived, particularly those still with us today, are living witnesses of a Europe that had been torn apart by the extremes of a hate-filled ideology that spawned the evil of the Holocaust.
Across the continent every day hundreds were dying, thousands being imprisoned and millions being intimidated, all innocent non-combatants, by one of the most evil regimes the world has seen. The courage of those who landed on the Normandy beaches to rid the world of that despotic iniquity demands not just our thanks and salute, but a recognition that today’s generation has their task to continue.
The Europe that we see today is far removed from the Europe fought over more than 70 years ago. Europeans take the rights to live in peace, to be free from oppression, to use their abilities as they wish, for granted. The idea of war between European nations seems unthinkable.
This is the Europe that those who fought have gifted us, all the more remarkable for the fact that this has been achieved in a relatively short time after centuries, millennia even, of internecine warfare. Europe’s soil is the most blood-soaked on earth and for a continent of still-squabbling nations to turn its back on that past is astonishing.
Of course, things are not perfect. More recent memory has seen a reversion to those darker days in the Balkans. Today, there are worries about the intentions of Vladimir Putin’s regime in Russia and its role in strife in Ukraine in which the language of the 1940s – accusations of fascist and communist oppression – is dreadfully relevant.
It says that what was achieved 70 years ago was not an end, but a beginning of a task which is not yet completed. Yes, we have come a long, long way from those dark days, but there is still a ways yet to travel.
Thankfully, we should not need guns to journey on down that road. Hopefully. But travel further, strengthening human rights, democracy and liberty, we must. Proper commemoration of D-Day is not an event for a few, but a never-ending job to be done by everybody.
Scrap this unwanted law
Sometimes what sounds like a good idea in theory turns out to be completely unworkable in practice. This looks to be the case with the laws passed by the Scottish Parliament earlier this year to ensure that every child in Scotland should have a “named person” who would keep a check on his or her welfare and development.
It sounded like a good idea because of distressing cases where children have been neglected or abused, and even died at the hands of their parents and supposed carers. In some of these cases, outside agencies have been told of concerns regarding the child but through lack of clear lines of responsibility, action that could have prevented further harm was not taken.
But opposition to what in effect is a state guardian for every child, be that person a teacher or social worker, has grown enormously. It is coming from not just across the political spectrum, but from across the range of professionals who deal with child welfare.
That these opponents, who will meet in Edinburgh on Monday, are willing to pay for a £30,000 court action aimed at securing a ruling that the politicians have exceeded their powers testifies to the depth and seriousness of their opposition. The central objection is that this law marginalises the responsibilities of parents and gives the state a right to intrude into homes, which goes well beyond rights authorities already have but which can only be acted on when there is reasonable suspicion of wrongdoing.
For laws to work well, they must have public consent. It is becoming clear neither the public not the professionals who are supposed to implement this law accept it. It should be scrapped.