Today is the anniversary of the German invasion of Holland and Belgium, 68 years ago. On the first day of the fighting in Holland around half the small and old Dutch air force was destroyed, Waalhaven airport seized for troop landings, and the bridge taken at Dordrecht. The Dutch army and the small boats of the navy put up stout resistance, but the absence of any functioning tanks and the loss of air cover made resistance difficult. In Belgium, the Germans hurled more substantial forces against the Allies, and destroyed around half the small Belgian air force on the first day. The German forces went on to conquer Holland by May 14, following the devastating bombing of Rotterdam and their threats to do more of the same to other Dutch cities. The attack on Belgium led to the English and French retreat from Dunkirk, and the successful German occupation of the rest of the Low Countries and Northern France.
Some argue today that we have been spared such battles over the last 63 years, thanks to the European Union. I always find this one of the most unpleasant and absurd arguments in the thin armoury of the proponents of a politically integrated Europe. Are they seriously suggesting that, without the EU, modern Germany would be following a warlike course against her neighbours? I see no evidence of any such intentions on the part of modern Germany, which has a very different outlook from the Germany of the Kaiser, or of Hitler. Why do they think so ill of a country with whom they wish to have such close relations? Do they not understand that military matters in the post-war period were mainly determined by NATO, not by the EU? Do they not recall that for much of the second half of the twentieth century Germany remained under four military zones from the occupying powers? The US emerged after 1945 as the worldâ€™s main superpower, and was herself committed to maintaining the peace in Europe, should there be a threat to it. As it turned out, the main fear after 1945 was not of German military action, but of cold-war tension between east and west flaring, into hot war across the divide between East and West Germany. As far as the west was concerned, the threat to peace did not come from within the EU, but from the communist world. The only protection against that came from a strong NATO with the US as its main pillar.
On a day when we mourn the loss of life in the blitzkrieg against Holland, and in the early exchanges of the battle for France, we are reminded what a much better place Europe became with the death of German militarism and its replacement by a peace-loving democracy, whose constitution endorsed their wish not to arm for conquest. It is wrong to argue that this came about only because of the EU, when it came about for wholly different reasons. Peace has been maintained in Western Europe for 63 years because the countries no longer wish to fight each other. That has been backed up by the presence and actions of NATO.