I was visiting the Arnhem War Cemetery, twenty minutes’ walk from our house in Oosterbeek, on 21 Sept 2019.
There are hundreds upon hundreds of graves of young soldiers, mainly British, victims of the 1944 Operation Market Garden and its airborne landings. The neat rows of headstones, the big Cross and the monument: “Their name liveth for evermore”, lead to sad reflections and prayer. 1523 identified casualties! … While I was musing, six or seven planes flew over, a fly-past of the old planes that had come 75 years ago to drop the paratroopers. Very moving.
In these days of remembrance, there was no praise for the mismanagement of the campaign or of the tragically misdirected bombs. But there is still an impressive, poignantly grateful admiration for those courageous young men who gave their lives for the liberation of people they did not know, of a land that wasn’t theirs.
The previous day I had watched on television the activities at Ginkel Heath, Ede. There was an impressive paratrooper drop, speeches (in presence of Prince Charles and Princess Beatrix, the King’s mother) and wreath-laying. The speech of British military spokesman, was a powerful witness to the importance of people and peoples working together, in solidarity, with determination in face of difficulties. He studiously avoided mentioning ‘Brexit’. But for me the message was clear.
The question is, how do we perceive the people around us? Are they friends and neighbours? Or the ‘enemy’? Does my liking of Oosterbeek make me a ‘collaborator’ or a ‘traitor’?. Is there any contradiction in being proud of being British (with Irish roots) and European and a World-citizen (African) at the same time?
The almost exclusive stress on economic affairs in the vitriolic ‘Brexit’ debate is demeaning. Finance is of course an element to be taken into consideration. But it is much less important than the question of our basic attitudes. Relations between allies should not be reduced to ‘deals’ (as in the often bitter rivalry of business affairs).
We should be proud of our many slaughtered soldiers, heroes of 75 years ago …. and of the surviving veterans. But what on earth would they think of the language and attitudes of today’s ‘Brexiteers’….?!
PS A corollary of today’s remembrance ceremonies – and one that history can learn from – is that we have gone way beyond associating Germany with the Nazi regime. Reconciliation after bitter conflict is possible. Our neighbourly relations with other European nations easily include present-day Germany.
PPS. The question of basic attitudes goes far beyond this ‘Bridge Too Far’ context. The mutual acceptance of different peoples with their cultures and languages is crucial for peace in our globalised world. Missionaries’ attitudes should, ideally, be showing the way!
PPS. The caringly maintained war cemetery is not the only cemetery in Oosterbeek. A visit to our well looked-after Mill Hill cemetery is very moving too. I hope we can be inspired by the long-term care of the ‘Airborne cemetery’ to cherish ours and guarantee its future…. “Their name liveth for evermore”.
John D. Kirwan MHM
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