Monday, July 20, 2015

Please stop mentioning the war

In his profiles of bloggers, the late Norman Geras used to ask if people had any prejudices that they were willing to admit.  Having read one or two responses, I used to wonder why he bothered.  "I have to confess I'm prejudiced against the ruling class who like opera and stamp on the faces of the poor on their way in the door blah blah..."  I read one or two of these and thought, "Oh fuck off!  Seriously, if you're not prepared to be honest, would it kill you to just say no - or saving that, not answer the question at all?"

I had always thought of myself as having latent anti-German prejudices, what with having a mother who lived through the war and who frankly doesn't like Germans very much (pity the fool who tries to tell her Dresden was a war crime) - as well as being brought up on a diet of war films and comics that have left me with words like "Achtung" and "Schnell" pretty much exhausting my German lexicon.  But one of the things I've realised in recent weeks is I actually don't, or at least not compared to some of the people paid to comment on the present situation in Greece.  In this I remembered - because I'm old -  the resignation of the Thatcher-era minister Nicholas Ridley for his diatribe on the EEC in the Spectator.  I note this journal is now saying he 'was right all along'.  Well, on the issue of the single currency I think he probably was - as well as on the 'democratic deficit' within the EU.  But the reason he was pressured to resign was not because of his views on the practicalities of EMU but rather for the anti-German (not to mention anti-French) flavour of his views  - and I think that bleeding heart internationalist Margaret Thatcher was right to accept his resignation.  

What concerns me with the present situation is that this kind of attitude seems to have popped up on the left.  The Syrizia coalition's posturing was explicitly anti-German - and to this end adopted a "do mention the war" strategy from day one.  (I'm not going to reference this on the grounds that anyone who doesn't recognise this simply hasn't been paying attention.)  But this has also been the case in Britain.  While there's been a few examples, Paul Mason's is one of the most egregious I have seen:
"Parallels abound with other historic debacles: Munich (1938), where peace was won by sacrificing the Czechs; or Versailles (1919), where the creditors got their money, only to create the conditions for the collapse of German democracy 10 years later, and their own diplomatic unity long before that. But the debacles of yesteryear were different. They were committed by statesmen."
The key distinction here, the only one, is that prior mistakes were made by 'statesmen'?  There is also, I would suggest, the whole nature of the situation.  Here's one excerpt from an account of the annexation of Czechosolovakia:
"Just as the Anchluss had resulted in a large surge of anti-Semitic violence in Vienna, so the incorporation of the Sudetenland saw a number of Jews either murdered or so despairing that they leaped from roofs or turned the gas taps. Hitler personally gave the Sudeten German Friekorps a three-day period of grace to hunt down Jews and political opponents."
Contrast and compare to today where the Germans have loaned Greece rather a lot of money and would like it back.  I had meant to say more about this but I find I can't bear it.  I would agree that Germany hasn't handled the Euro crisis particularly well and are not being entirely realistic about Greek debt but I really think those doing this 'banks are tanks' line should try a little harder to avoid being so crass and gratuitously offensive.  The war has been over for seventy years, after all.

1 comment:

The Plump said...

This piece mentions Mason. It was written by a yes voter in the referendum and this is absolutely spot on.

His comment was a vulgar reference to the historical wounds of a country from a visiting reporter at a time when the unity of the people is particularly fragile.

I used to get particularly pissed off when it became fashionable for people to compare Greece to the Weimar Republic when Golden Dawn first grew in prominence. Aside from the fact that at the same point in the economic crisis the Nazis were polling 37%, not GD's 7%, it was so disrespectful and ignorant to reference the crisis against German history, rather than Greek history.

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