Much agonising in the non-muscular liberal press about the forthcoming World Cup in Germany and our continuing national fixation with the Second World War. More precisely, the fact that we won it.
Martin Kettle opines in The Guardian that “we face a month of waiting for the inevitable moment when the terraces or the press proudly vomit a surfeit of war-obsessed, Nazi-fixated anti-German excess on our national living room carpet”. It seems some British fans are upsetting their German counterparts by whistling the theme-tune to the “Dambusters” while on the terraces. Oh dear. Such a chorus would doubtless be out of place at a reception at the British embassy in Berlin, but surely such boisterous interludes are part and parcel of any decent afternoon at the match.
More seriously, the reason why many British people are still “Nazi-fixated” is that well within living memory, Germany and its allies very nearly wiped European and British civilisation off the map forever. It may be considered rude to keep mentioning the Second World War –even humorously – in Germany company, but that does not alter historical reality. And as Basil Fawlty pointedly informed a German guest at Fawlty Towers: “You started it”.
That was one of the funniest moments in British comedy history, and the main reason why, was because it is true. But now it seems, like Trotsky in Stalinist Russia, the Hitler-era is to be airbrushed out of history, or at least suitably blurred in soft focus, so as not to cause bad feeling among our German hosts. Tens of millions dead and half a continent razed? Well, that was all another era, unfortunate of course, but really, times have changed. Indeed they have: John Cleese has now backstepped and recorded a song called “Don’t mention the war”, a drippy mea culpa for the notorious “Germans” episode.
Of course we should recognise that Germany, far more than Austria, or any of its neighbours has made the greatest strides in coming to terms with its gruesome recent history. Nor would I deny Germany’s contribution to Europe’s current peace and prosperity, and the vibrant multi-cultural societies of cities such as Berlin and Hamburg. But let’s not pretend that the Second World War was merely an unfortunate bump in Europe’s otherwise smooth, straight road from feudalism to modern democracy. It was not. This was a struggle for the very future of civilisation against the most evil regime in history, one which enjoyed widespread support from most of the German population. At least until Germany started losing. Thanks to the Allies’ victory national rivalries now play out on the football field, not the battlefield. But let’s not forget that enough young British men and women died fighting Hitler to fill the stadiums of the World Cup many times over.
So, sometimes, let’s do mention the war.