The bond between Europe, Canada and the United States is being severely tested by the unilateralist policy of the Trump administration. The time has come for Europe to take its destiny into its own hands.
On Thursday, June 6, at the Colleville-sur-Mer cemetery in Calvados, Normandy, French President Emmanuel Macron placed Legion of Honor medals on five American survivors of the Allied landing. Today these heroes are 94 to 100 years old. The ranks of veterans of "the longest day" who make the annual voyage to Normandy to commemorate their historic undertaking become smaller every year, and since it is a tradition that anniversaries "in tens and fives" are specially celebrated in a special way, this 75th is certainly the last to include members of that formidable generation.
The decision of their president, Donald Trump, to spend only a few hours on the Normandy beaches where so much of his country's blood was shed to liberate Europe is thus all the more significant. Trump will certainly be present the following day at the ceremonies in Plymouth, England, but his predecessors always had the heart for taking time to pay homage to the D-Day combatants, where, in the words of former U.S. President Ronald Reagan, "the Allies stood and fought against tyranny in a giant undertaking unparalleled in human history.” Today, Reagan's moving speech at Pointe du Hoc in 1984 has entered the annals of history. Even Bill Clinton, the first American president born after World War II, devoted six days to touring the historic sites of the Allied landings in France and Italy for their 50th anniversary in 1994.
Today is another time, with other customs, and another idea of the role of history. The nontraditional Trump will doubtlessly have some words of admiration and gratitude for the heroes of June 6, 1944. But evoking memories is only relevant if it serves a future purpose, and the future proposed by Trump bears no relation to the American ideal of 1944. The ties that bound Europe, Canada and the United States in achieving the extraordinary undertaking of D-Day were a basic element of the multilateral postwar international order. Today, these ties are overstretched, and this order is coming apart in large part because of the destructive effect of the Trump administration's unilateralism.
Given such developments, there is something Europeans can do about it besides cry. The U.S. helped Europe rebuild after the war, it provided protection against the USSR during the Cold War, and it supported the effort to free the communist countries of Eastern Europe at the end of the 1980s, which resulted in the reunification of Europe and the expansion of the European Union. Europe has its complexities, but today it is united, peaceful and prosperous. It is now up to Europe to take its destiny into its own hands. This is how German Chancellor Angela Merkel has preferred to express it since Trump took office, but she has been reluctant to match words with deeds. The time to do so has now arrived, for the Germans as well as other Europeans, including the British.
Standing beside Trump in Normandy on June, 6 French President Macron saw fit to place a special emphasis on the role of the French in the landing by referring to the "Kieffer commando," the only uniformed French unit that took part, and the resistance inland. This participation was minor compared to the scale of the Allied operation, but Gen. Charles de Gaulle was not wrong when he said that to be an actor, you must first rely on your own forces.