On 6th June 1944, seventy-five years ago this year, D-Day and Operation Neptune went into effect. Soldiers from nine allied nations, four of which were from capitulated governments-in-exile, landed on beaches across Normandy to begin the reclamation of France. Today the landings are remembered as a desperate and heroic gamble against the Nazi despotism that thankfully ended that war. Yet the truth is, of course, more complicated.
The Nazis were already fighting a losing battle against the Soviet Union, and the landings were the result of haranguing from Stalin to open up a second front to relieve the Red Army. As well as this, the landings were an attempt to prevent a communist dominated Europe, given Stalin’s own admittance that if it had not been for Neptune, his forces would have swept to Paris and claimed France for themselves. Indeed, this becomes all the sadder once one considers that out of the four nations-in-exile who took part in Neptune, two (Czechoslovakia and Poland) would become part of Stalin’s empire following the Potsdam Agreement. I must clarify that the intention here is not to say that the Nazi regime should not have been challenged or defeated, nor that the soldiers who stormed the beaches were not heroic in this deed. That regime is guilty of some of the greatest crimes in human history, and those who gave their lives on the beaches remain as worthy of praise as the fascists are of scorn. Our discussion remains of leaders and their morality, and we must come to terms with the cost of rightfully defeating the Nazi regime: it was to hand eastern Europe to Stalin in an act so reminiscent of appeasement that is baffling it is not referred to as such more often.
This is part of a romanticisation of the Second World War that is often evoked in domestic disputes with far-right elements. Indeed, in Britain especially when ‘anti-fascists’ are asked why they use violence in their counter-protests, they will use the examples of the Second World War and the ‘Battle of Cable Street’, a counter-protest in 1936 by British communists and socialists against the British Union of Fascists that turned violent, to justify such tactics. Their reasoning is that fascism is so vile an ideology that any tolerance of it, whether in speech or association, is justification enough for violence, and that history shows this to be right. What is not considered is the impact of the Nuremberg Trials, the greatest moral indictment of a political group aside from perhaps Khrushchev’s ‘Secret Speech’ on Stalin in 1956. This, the cold light of day, is what well and truly rendered fascism so weak for so long: the exploration of its crimes, its morality and its beliefs. In the same way that in Britain, the BUF had already been dealt perhaps a greater blow in the Olympia Rally in 1934 which saw Oswald Mosley, the leader of the BUF, expose his anti-semitism and intolerance.
What must be stressed is that I am not condoning fascism in any way. Yet the methods and actions of the ‘anti-fascists’ of today have made many people apathetic to fascism and threats from the far right. For a start, in part due to its nebulous definition, fascism has become a catch-all insult, to the point where we no longer have a real word to describe it when hard-right collectivism actually arises. This has led to the rise of the term ‘alt-right’, yet even this has swiftly lost a lot of its meaning. We now have groups such as ‘Generation Identity’, who genuinely are dangerous, and to describe them as ‘fascist’, in many people’s eyes, lumps them in with groups such as UKIP, who are nowhere near as fear-inducing as the ‘Identitarians’ who glue razor blades to the underside of their posters to prevent them being taken down. The use of violence by counter-protesters only serves to reinforce fascism as well, what with its own emphasis on violence and ‘might makes right’.
The way we can truly defeat fascism is with our own thoughts, our own speech and our own association. Otherwise we may be forced to return to Neptune, Nuremberg and Potsdam, that is to war, violence and appeasement of a different kind.