Allies United, If Only in Memory

The D-Day commemorations showed what Allied powers can accomplish when they act in unity, in this case achieving with grace and clarity the act of mutual remembrance.

It was a good show, from the pomp surrounding the heads of state to the derring-do of septuagenarian parachutists. The laughs were in the right places, and the tears. The young president of the United States carried out his role in these proceedings with respect, intelligence and dignity.


When President Clinton, President Francois Mitterrand of France, Queen Elizabeth of the United Kingdom, President Vaclav Havel of the Czech Republic, President Lech Walesa of Poland and Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands jointly perform symbolic action, the world takes note.

The unity of the Allies in war a half-century ago gave rise to near-universal condemnation of their disunity earlier. The belief was widely held -- it can never be proved or disproved -- that joint political action to deter aggression before World War II would have prevented the suffering and tragedy of the joint military action during it.


One looks round the world at trouble-spots today in vain if seeking unity of purpose among the larger and disinterested powers that must -- if anyone will -- keep the peace.

France, Britain, Russia and the United States cannot jointly do something about Bosnia because they cannot agree on what outcome they wish to see. France, Canada, the U.S. and the Organization of American States cannot agree on joint action respecting Haiti. Russia, South Korea, China and the United States cannot agree on a course of action to keep North Korea's nuclear ambitions in harness. Nor can the world community agree on a course of action to end suffering in Rwanda.

The prayers and praise in Normandy attest to the courage and unity of purpose of millions of men and women and the sacrifice of mostly young men. When President Clinton spoke of the gratitude for growing up in freedom that he owed to the dead and missing and maimed of his father's generation, he spoke for the nation.

But the proceedings also implied the failings of disunity in the 1930s that made the terrible sacrifices of the war years necessary, and that finally provoked the purposeful alliance.

There was much that was decent, unselfish and transcendently good about the D-Day observances yesterday. How much better if these qualities carry over to guide with common and humane values the vision of these same nations, as they try to cope with the new world disorder in the years ahead.