UNTIL recently, it was thought that this year’s D-Day commemorations would be relatively low-key, in contrast with those of five years ago, the 70th anniversary of the Normandy landings.
This was certainly the assumption in Portsmouth, where I now live. Then it became clear that there were still some long-lived veterans around, and, over a few months, and with the encouragement of the Ministry of Defence, the 75th anniversary of D-Day has expanded into a vast international gathering. Senior royalty will be present in June, together with surviving veterans and more than a dozen allied heads of state. These include President Trump, whose three-day state visit was announced last month.
The upgrading of the commemoration means that the highest levels of security will be enforced in Portsmouth. There will now be a massive steel enclosure by the war memorial on the seafront at Southsea, and few even of the veterans, let alone the locals, will have a chance to see much.
The reaction to the news of President Trump’s visit has been predictable, both locally and nationally. The press and social media are busy informing him that he is not welcome. There are plans for the Trump “blimp” — the massive baby balloon that floated over London on his last visit — to be brought out again.
I disapprove of anti-Trump demos, mostly because the evidence suggests that the Trump ego feeds off this sort of thing. Public disapproval merely confirms his sense of mission. But I also disapprove because it makes nonsense of the purpose of the commemoration.
The President is not coming in a personal capacity, but as the Commander-in-Chief of the American forces. He is here to honour the fallen and their commander, Dwight Eisenhower, who oversaw the whole Allied campaign. Without American effort, it is difficult to see how a bridgehead could have been made into German-occupied France, or how the course of the war could otherwise have been turned. Shouting and banner-waving against President Trump suggests that the commemoration is all about us, and not about remembering those whose ingenuity, determination, and raw courage won the victory.
But there is a third reason that I would never join an anti-Trump demo. I deplore what such outbursts reveal about us and our all-too-cosy self-righteousness. There is a more British way to deal with visitors whose views we deplore. Protocol is the way in which our Establishment tends to deal with bumptious foreigners, and no doubt will on this occasion. Formality and cool civility protects everyone from self-referring outbursts of sentiment on either side. Protocol is as British as a gin and tonic: where a double measure of spirit gives courage, tonic protects against contamination, and there is an acid twist of lemon.
All served, of course, with ice.