Tuesday 22 October 2019

Gerard O'Regan: 'Trump's selfish, go-it-alone ideology doesn't sit well next to the heroes of war'

US President Donald Trump. Photo: Reuters
US President Donald Trump. Photo: Reuters

Gerard O'Regan

Old men, the seasons of their life drawing to a close, tussled with memories of their youth. All now in their 90s, for some a 100th birthday is an all-too-few heartbeats away. And so they remembered. They knew they would never recapture that time when they were young in quite the same way again.

This week, these old soldiers with their galaxy of medals and craggy faces, were centre stage. As they heard the waters lap on the shoreline, leaders and luminaries from near and far sounded their praises. "I just want to say thank you," was a repeated refrain as sundry signatories shook hands with the old men.

The veterans of the D-Day landings nodded. Behind deep-set eyes, much remained mysterious. All about them pomp and pageantry marked a momentous time in the history of Europe. June 6, 1944, heralded the liberation of Europe from the Nazis. The old men had fought; they had survived.

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Amidst all the blood-letting, a bond was forged between Britain, France and the United States - by circumstance and mutual need.

Through organisations such as Nato and the EU, a unity of purpose survived - in an often dangerous world - in the years that followed. But the ties that bind are no more. Donald Trump insists he wants to make America great again. As far as he is concerned, this means America going it alone and shamelessly pursuing its own interests, unshackled by old alliances.

When it comes to a shared defence - as expressed by Nato - he is lukewarm. Since coming to office he has berated other countries for not paying more towards its running costs. And he maintains a special disdain for the club of nations which is the EU. This week he once again proclaimed Brexit as simply a great idea. Not surprisingly he favoured the Brexiteers' high priest, Nigel Farage, with a special audience. In a meandering aside, he even suggested to Taoiseach Leo Varadkar that ditching the link with Brussels would be no bad thing.

For Theresa May, the D-Day commemorations were bitter-sweet. The hours tick by, signalling her departure from the international stage. The symbolism and poignancy of a fast-fading post-war era - when Britain shared a vision of Europe with its neighbours - surely resonated somewhere in her psyche.

Now, as per the Brexit ideology, the British are deliberately casting themselves adrift. Strident voices call for cutting many old links with the continent. As she surveyed the homage to a more unified past on the Normandy beaches, did she feel a stab of nostalgia for a disappearing world which once held so much promise?

It was left to French President Emmanuel Macron to proclaim a wistful reminder that maybe something priceless is being lost. The 'go it alone' ideology is battling for supremacy in Trumpian America and Brexit Britain. Macron seemed genuinely moved as he clasped the hands of the old men in gratitude for valour expended in a common cause. Some of his words did not sit well with the US president, who pouted with obvious displeasure. The most powerful man on the planet folded his arms and gazed into the distance. It was a classic stance by the current occupant of the Oval Office - part aggressive, part defensive.

Russian President Vladimir Putin was a noted absentee from the Normandy commemoration - a sign that no matter what happens, geopolitical tensions will endure. He is ominously cultivating an ever-closer relationship with China; experts say both countries feel they need each other as a bulwark against an over-confrontational regime in Washington.

Meanwhile, Donald Trump seemed strangely removed as thoughts of other days were resurrected in Normandy.

The remembrance ceremonies recalled death, suffering, loss and other horrors of war. The dwindling group of old men who took part in the D-Day landings carry on with life despite the vicissitudes of the years.

"I enjoyed it,'' replied the president when asked what were his thoughts. But 'enjoy' was not the word to be used when recalling such cataclysmic times. There was something cringe-inducing in its choice. Did it signal a lack of empathy - and provide a timely insight into the inner life of Donald J Trump?

Irish Independent

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