Saturday, 30 October 2010

Human Rights and D-Day

In the early hours of 28 April 1944, 946 American servicemen lost their lives as part of rehearsals for the D-Day landings. The convoy of ships carrying them were attacked by German torpedo boats off the Devon coast as they prepared to undertake a mock landing at Slapton Sands. In the aftermath of this tragedy, those who survived were sworn to secrecy and it would be over twenty years until the US and British Governments would release information about what had happened that night. Until then even the families of those killed thought they had died as part of the real landings on the Normandy coast.

There is another story of secrecy and sacrifice related to Slapton Sands and, indeed, the entire south coast of England in the run up to D-Day. Miles of the south of England were turned into a vast military camp which was only possible as tens of thousands of people were relocated - sometimes forcibly - to areas away from the preparation areas. Many had never left their communities before, others had to transport entire farms - livestock and all - miles never to return.

Both these events helped to ensure that the D-Day landings were a success and hastened the ultimate victory over Nazi Germany a little over a year later. Without these thousands of individual acts of sacrifice the Allies would have found it much harder to wage war against such a determined and fanatical opponent.    

Earlier this week MI6 chief Sir John Sawers said it was essential that MI6's agents and other intelligence agencies were confident that their secrets were protected, otherwise the channels of information on which they rely would dry up. He also made a thinly veiled attack on the human rights culture that has developed in the British courts system.

Britain and the wider world is much different to the world of 1944; we are much more transparent and open which should be welcomed. However, in other respects we are a more selfish and risk adverse nation than ever before.

While the cover-up of the disaster on the night of the 28 April was necessary to protect morale ahead of D-Day, it would be unlikely to be successful today beyond the short term. For this we should be thankful - allowing for operational necessity - as the families deserved to be told the truth.

Sadly, moving thousands of communities probably wouldn't be possible either, as too many would put their 'human rights' ahead of the need of the greater good. While a healthy sceptism about what our security services, government and others in authority are doing is a welcome addition to our historic sense of fair play. What we must not ever do is allow a culture to develop where a selfish 'I'm alright Jack' me first attitude - that is becoming increasingly common in society - masked in claims over human rights overtakes the solemn undertaking to protect the nation.  


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