Yes, it’s that time of year again. Time to mention the war. The British press have uncovered film of a child doing a Nazi salute, feeding the popular British obsession with World War Two so central to their national identity. By virtue of the fact that the child involved was Princess Elizabeth, later Queen Elizabeth II, the press gets the additional bonus of flogging their ‘royal family were secret Nazi sympathisers’ dead horse whilst simultaneously exhuming the coffin of the ‘royal family were German’ popular trope. It’s hard to work out which is more offensive in all this, the ahistorical deceit involved, or the lazy servicing of hackneyed popular stereotypes.
At one level it’s a good deflective tactic. Nobody in their right mind could believe that Elizabeth was a Nazi sympathiser, but it provides a convenient platform for exploiting the well-known appeasement sympathies of her uncle, Edward VIII, yet one more time as if it was news. What won’t be covered, naturally, is the pro-appeasement stance of 95% of the British media in the late nineteen thirties, or the fact that 95% of schoolchildren of my era did exactly the same thing in playground games. We also enthusiatically played Cowboys and Indians in what I’m sure would now be descibed by any number of social scientist academics struggling to obscure their unsubmittable REF status as “unacceptable patriarchal, Eurocentric supremacist imperialist colonialist reinforcement of historical crimes”.
At one level, it was encouraging to see the playground games point being made by Michael White in the Grauniad, but more entertaining from my perspective was the manner in which the same edition of that paper could unconsciously illustrate my point about the appeasement consensus in nineteen-thirties Britain. Nobody wanted another war, the orthodox hypocrisy asserts, but surely the nature of the Nazis was sufficiently well-known that we can get away with castigating the royal family for this salute business?
It’s easy to spot the pitfalls with appeasement with hindsight. So what possible analogy could we use to identify a similar group of violent fascists in the current world and compare our parallel response to them? Fortunately for us, a group called Islamic State (IS) have been advancing an appreciation of fascist aggression in Iraq and Syria for some time. Granted, they might lack the specific modern nationalist focus in exchange for a religious ideology, but they certainly hit most of the indicator tick-boxes as undemocratic anti-semites inspired by an irrational mystical cause to unleash violent terror and mass-murder in service of their proto-medieval sense of nationalist supremacy. So, when faced with this security threat paralleling that of fascism in the thirties, and when we struggle with the consequences of the Iraq war in a hyperbolic parallel with the impact of the losses in World War One, how do we respond?
We have to look no further than Simon Tisdall, writing right next to Michael White in the Grauniad, warning that Cameron is commiting us to an open-ended war in the Middle East against IS. Here we can hear the genuine voice of appeasement, and it springs from the same orthodox certainties about the unacceptability of casualties, and the same self-delusion about the nature of the threat involved. Reading this stuff it becomes easier to understand how people in the nineteen thirties were so reluctant to confront the necessity of using lethal force to combat fascism.
And just to get back to inescapable centrality of eighteenth-century Whiggism, the royal family may have married Germans, but they haven’t really been German since George III proudly declared that he revelled in the name of Briton. All this might be a total non-story, but a least it can distract us for another week or two and help the British print media’s phone-hacking scandals receed into comfortable oblivion.