Thursday, 14 June 2012

How one village greeted their distinguished German guests


A curious story in the Daily Mail today about people dressed as stormtroopers. It might make a wonderful bitter sweet comedy film.

My attention was caught in particular by this baleful sentence:

'Councillor Thorne said those wearing the uniforms could be considered to have broken race laws.'

It was supposed to be a 1940s fancy dress event and Councillor Thorne's remark reveals how unfree England has become since the war we won against fascism. I suppose England was last like this, a puritanical humourless dictatorship, under Cromwell.

It's very odd how attitudes to Nazi uniforms have changed over the years as the people who remember the war are fewer. I remember a pretty girl (the wonderful Mynah Bird?) strutting across the Two Ronnies wearing Nazi uniform in the 1970s as a jokey kinky thing without anyone caring. Last week someone dressed as Hermann Goering at a similar party somewhere in England caused great distress. Yet dressing as the Kaiser would cause no offence nor as Stalin, Pol Pot, Castro or Mao. Even former Communist cities like Budapest and Bucharest have bars named after Castro and Guevara, and this does not shock me at all. I would be shocked if they were named after Goebbels or Himmler and am not quite sure why.

Thank God that the holocaust is not receding into history or losing its horror but it is interesting that Western (but not Eastern European) society increasingly bases itself on rejecting Nazi racial policies - whereas in the 1960s and 1970s when the war was much closer to hand the slaughter of the Jews was considered only one among the terrible things that Germany did during the war. Tony Judt in the epilogue to his magisterial Postwar records how much less interest Western Europe took, in the late 1940s, in the fate of the Jews than it did a generation later.

Anthony Burgess on the other hand set his The Clockwork Orange in a rotten, violent, Communist England where films of the Nazis' crimes are regularly broadcast as state propaganda.

Welfare and rejection of Nazism are both very excellent things but they seem to have come to occupy much of the place for the sacred in Western European culture, even among many clergy. They have to some extent replaced religion and patriotism. This is worthy of deep thought. We are in some danger of rejecting our traditions and losing belief in our values even though those values triumphed at great cost over Nazism.

The definition of heresy is a truth taken out of proportion. As A.J.P. Taylor said, we learn from the mistakes of the past to make new mistakes in the future. Or as Kant put it, 'Out of the crooked timbers of mankind nothing straight was ever made.'

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