Inside the Capitol

Monday, June 01, 2009

6-5 Queen Gets Snubbed on D-Day

Syndicated Columnist

SANTA FE -- Is the 65th anniversary of D-Day, June 6, worthy of a major commemoration? That question is at the heart of a big international controversy this year.
Usually major observances are held every 10 years but this year, the British Normandy Veterans Association thought there was reason for an exception.
The organization has voted to disband after this year's ceremonies because it has very few members left and will have even fewer by the 70th anniversary.
A request was made to Prime Minister Gordon Brown for extra funding to get as many British Normandy Veterans to the observances across the channel as possible.
The prime minister wasn't particularly moved by the request so vets went to the newspapers, which joined their side immediately. And soon the funding was increased.
But Brown still wasn't convinced that a larger ceremony was in order. Every year, remembrance services are held on the two beaches the Americans took and the three beaches taken by the British and Canadians. But only at 10 year intervals are heads of state usually invited by the French to their shores.
All this changed, however, when French President Nicolas Sarkozy invited U.S. President Barack Obama to participate in ceremonies at Utah beach -- and Obama accepted.
Prime Minister Brown immediately went into action requesting a personal invitation to participate with Sarkozy and Obama. But he neglected to request an invitation for the Queen, who is the head of state for both Britain and Canada.
And that's when things really came apart. Brits noted that Queen Elizabeth is the only living head of state to have served in uniform during World War II.
She was a volunteer with the Women's Auxiliary Territorial Service, service number 230873. She served as a driver and mechanic. I can remember seeing a picture of her at the time in Life magazine, changing a tire on a jeep in her uniform. The Normandy vets consider her "one of us."
The Queen has said that she would be delighted to accept an invitation. Evidently diplomatic protocol requires that a head of state can visit another country only when invited by that country's head of state.
President Sarkozy replied that this ceremony was planned as strictly a Franco-American and said it would be too late logistically to invite the Queen, although if Brown had put her on his invitation request, she could have come.
Brits are of two minds about the mess. Most blame the French, which is a favorite sport in England anyway. They claim that their queen wasn't invited because Sarkozy wanted an uninterrupted day with Obama. Had the queen been invited, he would have had to attend ceremonies on the British beaches too.
Evidently Sarkozy has been working hard at currying favor with Washington recently. In Britain he has been branded "Sarko the American. London's Daily Mail newspaper says, "Everyone wants to be best friends with the most popular politician on Earth."
But many in Britain blame Mr. Brown for not recognizing the importance of D-Day's 65th anniversary and for thinking of himself first instead of the Queen.
Sarkozy is not required by protocol to include Brown in the program for the day so Brown will stay in the British sector and not be particularly visible there because of his embarrassment over exclusion of the Queen.
This isn't the first time there have been hurt feelings in Europe over a D-Day observance. German Chancellor Helmut Kohl took offense at not being invited to the 50th anniversary despite his efforts to promote German-French reconciliation. Germany was finally invited two years ago.
D-Day doesn't get much recognition in the United States but it will get more this year because of Obama's participation. For the remaining Normandy vets in America, it will be a nice treat.
FRI, 6-5-09

JAY MILLER, 3 La Tusa, Santa Fe, NM 87505
(ph) 982-2723, (fax) 984-0982, (e-mail)



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