Inside the Capitol

Saturday, June 01, 2013

6-5 Only four presidents have been invited to France for D-Day

60513 D Day

SANTA FE – At this time last year, President Barack Obama was facing severe criticism for showing a lack of patriotism by not attending the commemoration ceremonies at Normandy on D-Day.
Let's hope that by now all the people who were howling last year are squared away on how D-Day is commemorated in France. If not, the following information may be helpful.
President Obama was accused of being the first president in 70 years not to attend the D-Day ceremonies. Obama cleared that up by noting that he indeed attended D-Day ceremonies his first year in office and caused quite a stir when French President Nicolas Sarkozy invited only Obama and not Queen Elizabeth.
The Queen made a big deal out of it because she is the only head of state, who saw service during World War II. She was a mechanic and truck driver. The general consensus was that Sarkozy wanted Obama to himself all that day.
But then the refrain began that Obama did not attend any of the three commemorations since then and that every other U.S. president had attended them all. That one didn't hold water either. International protocol holds that heads of state do not enter another country unless invited by that country's head of state. That's something I hadn't realized.
Evidently D-Day is celebrated in every little town and village near the Normandy beaches. National ceremonies are held only once every 10 years. That began only in 1984. President Ronald Reagan was invited and he attended. He wasn't invited the remaining years of his term. And he didn't attend.
Bill Clinton was invited in 1994 and attended. George W. Bush was invited in 2004 and he attended.
In 2009, the veterans of the Normandy landing petitioned President Sarkozy to hold a 65th national celebration because there were so few D-Day veterans still living. Sarkozy obliged. Obama was invited and went.
So, four U.S. presidents have been invited to the Normandy events and all four have gone – including President Obama. No other U.S. president has gone and no one has gone more than once.
This doesn't mean, however, that no U.S. official has been to Normandy on other D-Days. The United States has a visitors' center at the U.S. cemetery where 9,387 U.S. war dead are buried.
Then-U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates presided over the dedication in 2007.
Participation by Germany has been a sore point. In 2004, German Chancellor Helmut Kohl asked to be invited as a show of total European unity. His request was denied.
Germany tries hard to be a good neighbor in Europe. Germans avoid any shows of patriotism for fear of appearing militant. They have adopted a deep streak of pacifism opposing all wars. This led to major disagreements when the United States and Britain entered into wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Germany argued that their nation owes it to history to stress alternatives to war.
We and our allies could not understand how Germans could allow people to be sent to prison camps and be killed. The Germans answer that they were at war and that the people imprisoned were said to be security risks.
America has found it difficult to argue with that reasoning because our nation was doing the same with the Japanese, Italians and some Germans.
The difference was that we weren't exterminating our prisoners. Neither side asked much about the prisoners once they were in camps. Finally, in 2009, the 65th anniversary of D-Day, German leaders were invited.
D-Day has never been a big deal in the United States. It is sandwiched in between Memorial Day, Flag Day, Juneteenth and July 4th. The American culture isn't especially celebration-oriented. We seem more work-oriented.
So even though we took two of the five Normandy beaches, Utah and Omaha, we mainly leave it to the movies to carry the message that we won the war single-handily.


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