On an overcast June morning 75 years ago, the greatest armada in history embarked on a quest that would determine the fate of the European continent in ending its darkest chapter. The Normandy landings are being celebrated as a reminder of the bravery and fortitude of the quarter of a million men who took part, many thousands of whom gave their lives in the fight against Nazi Germany.
Most of the veterans taking part in the celebrations are aged well into their 90s, but they have lived a lifetime knowing what it is indeed like trying to breach the Atlantic Wall. They are also fully aware that they answered to the call of their nations at a time when freedom was under threat, where the dark forces of fascism had made hatred of difference a key tenet, where unbridled nationalism led to the horrors of death camps and Nazi Germany.
Today, many of the ideas of the 1930s are once more in vogue across the continent of Europe. There are parties on the rise on the Right in Spain, Italy, Germany, the United Kingdom, France, the Netherlands, Denmark, Poland, Austria and Hungary that seek to curtail the liberal rights and freedoms that have been so hard-won by the veterans of D-Day and other terrible events that brought about the ultimate victory in the Second World War.
These new parties have common threads. They despise people who are different. They seek to target refugees — most of whom are Muslims — in their efforts to stir up hate and radicalise an electorate that has become complacent and indifferent by the prosperity that liberal values have brought and reinforced.
These hate-mongers seek to unite on the Right by destroying the beliefs of the many, undermining values through social media, firebrand speeches, distorting reality to blame refugees for every ill that befalls a community or city. Make no mistake, this rising tide of populism is little different from the forces of fascism in the 1930s that brought totalitarian and dictatorial regimes to power.
These D-Day celebrations are likely the last great gathering where those who fought 75 years ago will be present. In the coming years, it will be up to each of us to ensure that their sacrifices will neither be forgotten nor go in vain. In many ways, how we react to the challenges of the Right, of populism, of extremists and hatemongers speaks volumes today. The lessons of history and the warnings of complacency. All it is required for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.