Yesterday was the 70th anniversary of D Day. I am always humbled to hear the stories of those men who went ashore that day. They speak of the horror, not of any glory of war, but what that generation was forced to achieve and did so was truly heroic. The first big commemoration I remember was the 40th when I remember the BBC announcer being corrected that all were in their 60s now (some were 58 or 59). Now all are in their late 80s at least. It is also well worth remembering that utterly heroic and monumentally impressive as Overlord and D Day were, Vladamir Putin was not at the commemoration simply to make up the numbers. Operation Bagration, the Russian offensive of summer 1944, was arguably the greatest strategic defeat the Germans suffered in the Second World War. Important as D Day was, the road to Berlin was really more from Moscow via Stalingrad and Kursk.
The D Day commemorations, have, however, revived talk about the way in which Europe has thankfully been saved from a vast war since 1945 (Yugoslavia being a smaller but terrible reminder of the horror of war). Some commentary has focused again on how a major European war has been prevented by the EU. The counter to this has been that actually it is NATO not the EU which has prevented this.
Both these arguments have some merit but do not seem wholly convincing. Rather one might argue the fact that a major European war, at least one in Central and Western Europe has become unthinkable, has facilitated and necessitated the creation of both the EU and NATO.
From at least the Renaissance there have been a number of states which could have attempted or did indeed attempt militarily to rule over much or all of Europe. However, one by one they were serially defeated or declined to the situation we are now in where no one country can begin to consider militarily dominating Europe: they simply do not have the military resources let alone the lack of any inclination to do so.
It is in that context of European countries with very limited military power that the Common Market and later EU were formed. Mutually beneficial trading partnerships and indeed the pooling of military power (along with the USA) in NATO were a consequence not the result of the self evident truth that Germany could not hope to take over France nor vice versa. NATO did not stop another Franco-German conflict; the military weakness of France and Germany did that. The attempts to form an ever closer union or even a United States of Europe are more a consequence of the decline of power in Europe and Europe’s hope to retain prominence in world affairs by pooling its power.
As such those elderly men who once stormed ashore at Normandy and left so many of their friends behind along with their counterparts in the Red Army are, by defeating the last power in Western Europe which was capable of dominating the continent, the ones who created the circumstances for the EU. They, and the circumstances in Europe their heroism produced, and not the faceless bureaucrats of Brussels, nor even the generals of NATO, are the ones who have ensured that there have now been several generations of peace in Western Europe.