War: such a waste of young lives. The EU helps to bring peace.
London4Europe Vice-Chair Nick Hopkinson reflects on the purpose of the EU on the back of a visit to war graves: 'It makes me realise how lucky I am - how lucky our generation is. My great uncle was sent to Italy to fight; he was killed. I was awarded a place to study in Italy and it changed my life.'
I was recently reminded of a poster from the 1975 referendum campaign: “Forty million people died in two European wars this century. Better to lose a little national sovereignty than a son or daughter. Vote Yes to keep the peace. Keep Britain in Europe.”
Although we pool sovereignty, rather than lose it, I accept the overall argument. The European Union (EU) does underpin peace in Europe. It is said this argument does not have resonance amongst the young, who may take the peace dividend for granted. If so, that is a testament to the EU’s success. Strangely, the peace argument now seems to be lost on most of those over 59, two thirds of whom voted yes in 1975.
The Leavers argue NATO, not the EU, keeps the peace in Europe. NATO is indeed the cornerstone of our military security. However, there can be no peace without prosperity. Post war Western policy-makers knew Marshall Plan aid and NATO alone could not deliver economic growth in Western Europe, make another war in Europe impossible nor stop the advance of Communism. Pan-European economic integration was also needed. And wars are fought by countries, not by armies. NATO is a military alliance. It needs political cooperation for it to work. Amongst European countries, that comes largely through the EU.
Our recent trip to France and Italy may illustrate the point. We visited four war cemeteries. We visited the first, the peaceful Quarry cemetery near Cambrai, by mistake. We told a local man on a bike that we were looking for the grave of my wife’s great uncle in the Canadian WW1 cemetery. He said with a sigh “there are several around here”. Indeed we spotted at least a dozen and there are no doubt more. We eventually found Charles Cruse’s grave in the well-kept Sains-Les-Marquion cemetery at the junction of the A15 and A16. My wife slumped at the foot of his grave, and wrote a heart-felt message in the visitors book.
Our trip then took us to Bologna for a reunion with American, German and Austrian classmates, and a challenging walk through the Apennine mountains to Florence. We followed the via degli Dei, a route used by ancient traders. Small stretches of the original 187 BC Roman road are still walked upon, but we also saw some WW2 German Gothic line defences. We passed inhabitants of Sasso Marconi decorating a memorial to their partisan ancestors who had been shot by retreating Germans. Our group didn’t talk about that much but a visit to the largest war cemetery in Italy at the Futa Pass, where 30,653 Germans are buried, didn’t escape comment. “These could have been our uncles” our German friend said. “A waste”, I commented noting the proliferation of 19-25 ages on headstones.
This made me reflect why I strongly believe we should remain in the EU. The French economist, Frederic Bastiat, famously said “if goods don’t cross borders, armies will”. Similarly the famous 19th century Liberal economist, Richard Cobden, believed free trade was a powerful force for peace and defence against war. Trade protection was high before WW2. Today limited trade between nuclear India and Pakistan contributes to their fragile relationship. The UK enjoys the best trade deal we could have with our EU partners – anything less than the Single Market and our current trade arrangements with 60 other countries would be a step backward.
It is the political co-operation through repeated interaction in Brussels between governments that makes countries treat each other as friends. And freedom of movement means that at the individual level people are brought closer together.
I have yet to visit the grave of my great uncle, after whom I am named, who was killed serving with the Scots Guards in Cassino. My German classmate has an uncle buried near Cassino too. We intend to visit Cassino together, hopefully with the precious gift of our rights to travel, study, work and trade freely throughout the EU intact.
The original version of this article is available on the London for Europe website.