Leading Article: Time for goodwill towards Germany

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HALF a century ago, the allied armies fell upon Normandy to begin the liberation of Europe and to replace tyrannies with free and democratic states. The success of the enterprise and the post-war regeneration of Western Europe were deeds so great that it comes as something of a shock to consider how readily we take them for granted today.

Perhaps that is why the slightest tensions can provoke unhappy memories, raise hackles and irritate old sensibilities. The French ambassador to Bonn is the latest to experience this effect. He uttered judgements about what he saw as heavy-handed German policy towards the European Union. The German foreign minister called him in for an explanation. There followed a predictable sequence of intemperate newspaper articles and choleric statements by politicians in both countries.

It was regrettable that this minor disagreement coincided with an unhappy debate over a decision not to invite Chancellor Helmut Kohl or any other representative of the German government to ceremonies planned to mark the 50th anniversary of D-Day. It is said that their presence would not be appropriate. Germany is instead invited to celebrations next year to commemorate the end of the war in Europe.

Many allied veterans feel that is correct. Time has not mellowed their memories. Others, however, are ready to accept the Germans as participants in homage to all who fought and died. In victory, magnanimity, said Churchill, and in peace, goodwill. Even across the havoc of war he could find the chivalry to praise Rommel as 'a great general'.

With the onrush of events in modern Europe, it cannot be right to postpone the clearest sign of reconciliation. British soldiers died in two world wars for many things, but they died in part to settle the quarrel between France and Germany, a feud that spent the flower of Europe's youth in three conflicts and destroyed the old world in August 1914. The Franco-German alliance represents the triumph of modern Europe over ancient evils. It is a guarantee of our future hope, not a cause for recrimination. And as we edge uneasily towards a new century, Western Europe needs shared values as never before.

It is therefore to be hoped that Chancellor Kohl will indeed be invited to this year's ceremonies. Let the world witness that the newly unified Germany stands as one with the wartime allies. That is surely the finest way to honour all those who sacrificed so much to make possible a peaceful, prosperous Europe. Churchill would have wished for nothing less.