14 May 2005
Proud to be British

Mattias Matussek, Der Spiegel’s London correspondent and brother of the German ambassador, certainly knows how to put a cat among the pigeons.  In an article (via A&L Daily), to coincide with the 60th anniversary of VE-Day he makes a number of charges:

  1. That we still think that the Germans are a bunch of Nazis
  2. That we overestimate our contribution to victory.
  3. That in taking pride over our achievements in World War II we tend to gloss over things like Dresden, the failure to do anything about the concentration camps and various other imperial crimes.

I have to say, on Charge 1 I tend to agree.  This attitude is most apparent at England-Germany football games.  I find the boorish behaviour of England fans so embarrassing that it has not been unknown for me to find myself supporting Germany.

Having said that I do find myself wondering how this came about.  It doesn’t seem to happen in the States and it doesn’t seem to have been present at the 1966 World Cup Final.  I can’t help thinking it is at least in part related to the British establishment’s self-loathing and to the left’s take-over of the history curriculum.  Unfortunately, I’ve never quite been able to join the dots on this one.

As far as overestimating our contribution well, who can say?  There are no parallel universes where counter-factuals are allowed to play themselves out.  I will say this though: I do not see how freedom could have returned to Western Europe had Britain been knocked out of the war in 1940.  And without the bomber campaign and the threat of an invasion of France the balance of forces on the Eastern Front might have been quite different.

However, the part of his article that I find most disturbing is the accusation of glossing over.  For starters it’s a complete mismatch.  You cannot usefully compare actions (such as the Holocaust) which were primary policy with actions like Dresden which may or not have been mistakes committed in the pursuance of primary policy.  The killing of Jews was intentional, the killing of German civilians was incidental.

But what is really alarming about this charge is its motivation.  By dragging up things like this Matussek is effectively saying: your ancestors were no better than ours.  Now whether this is an attempt to rehabilitate the Nazis or to belittle the World War Two generation I can’t say but I can’t help but think this is somehow wrapped up with Europeanism and the desire to eliminate national feeling.  Whatever, the case may be he’s wrong.  Our ancestors were a great bunch.  And so long as we honour and preserve the culture that made them we can be proud of them.

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  1. Revisionism…euck!

    I agree absolutely with your comment - the slaughter of the Jews was a deliberate policy to kill a particular portion of the population based upon race. Dresden may have been erroneous in retrospect but it was not a deliberate policy of slaughter for slaughter’s sake. Both sides engaged in wholesale bombing of the enemy’s cities in the belief that this was an effective means of subduing their foe and ending the war quickly.

    Indeed, bombing was often ineffective in that it failed to destroy its primary targets. It’s easy to sit back and analyse with hindsight. The allies were doing what they believed to be the right thing to bring the war to a swift conclusion.

    Whether the allies did enough about the concentration camps is another moot point - they were trying to win the war as efficiently as possible. It is arguable whether bombing the concentration camps would have made any great difference - apart form finishing off the inmates more quickly than otherwise would have happened - while using resources that were better expended eroding Germany’s war machine.

    Posted by Mark Ellott on 14 May 2005 at 11:54am

  2. ...it has not been unknown for me to find myself supporting Germany.

    I had no idea you were Scottish.

    Posted by Andy Wood on 17 May 2005 at 01:35am

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