Saturday, September 05, 2009

We'll Meet Again... And Again... And Again, Ad Infinitum

I won't deluge you with a blizzard of links, because I think this thread at Socialist Unity and this article by Geoffrey Wheatcroft neatly summarise the point I'll be trying to make, i.e. that the mere mention of World War II is enough to make people lose their damn minds.

This week's seen the Mail jerking off over grovelling apologies from German Chancellor Angela Merkel (born 1954); semi-hysterical bedshitting over the Putin/Medvedev whitewash double act (Russian politicians in "self-serving lies" shocker) and wild alarm at Nixon-wingnut Pat Buchanan's revisionist history.

All of this is basically the background noise of British existence, with constant teary-eyed panegyric on the glorious dead and endless TV repeats of The Nazis - History's Most Evil Bastards. The iron rule of international sport is that the British will turn in a flash from reasonable people into snickering seven year olds, and commentators can never resist getting in on the act with snotty comments about the French football team's poor defending and the Germans' fierce aerial bombardment etc.

I mention all this because I'm currently reading Human Smoke by Nicholson Baker, which I picked up specifically because it caused paroxysms of spluttering outrage from some the country's biggest bellends. It's a series of sketches and extracts from journals and newspapers of the time, all aimed at making this central point - World War 2 was one long, grinding atrocity in which all belligerent parties bent much of their power to exterminating civilians.

The individual points that have so enraged the patriots are, in short, that 1) Churchill was a war-mad nut who popped boners for saturation bombing of civilians; that 2) the allies were pretty much indifferent to the plight of the Jews, and that 3) avoiding total war might've caused less deaths than the total war that resulted, my take on these being 1) True 2) True and 3) Maybes aye, maybes naw, and unprovable anyway.

I think this is a representative example of how people react to the suggestion that the allies weren't shy about rubbing out thousands of innocents and that WWII wasn't the bestest and most moral war EVAR.*

Now, I've spent much of my life reading rah-rah histories of the period and watching nostalgic hokum like The Longest Day and Saving Private Ryan. I have a damn good grasp of the era and I can be trusted to consider the opinions of pacifists and draw my own conclusions; I don't need to be protected from dangerous, national-myth challenging opinions by a gaggle of angry idiots.

And it's the challenging of national myths, not whether Lord Halifax said (x) to (y) in 1938, that is the problem for some people here. Well-reasoned consideration of our history often leads to uncomfortable conclusions, which may have knock-on effects on present and future policy, and that just Can't Be Allowed To Happen.

Would anyone like an example? No doubt it would be possible for us to spend eight years in Afghanistan blowing up civilians and psychos alike, losing two hundred soldiers while mouthing stock phrases like bad things happen in wars and we will not give in to totalitarianism that threatens our way of life without all the pom-pom waving WWII nostalgia.

One major difference between the two conflicts, of course, is that the Prime Minister didn't need to take the podium in 1947 to explain why we were fighting in the first place. Gordon Brown did it yesterday.

*If you want to test how deeply embedded this stuff is in our society, try saying Nuking Hiroshima was a war crime or Allied bombing killed more French civilians than the Blitz killed Londoners to friends or family members. Oh, and be sure to stand well back.

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