Sunday, 22 December 2013

You're Never More than a Minute from the Nazis

    My wife once described British TV to her mother as having an obsession with the war. Sitting in their smart North American kitchen I leapt to the defence of our broadcasters.
    On our return to these shores our first evening had (in those days of 5 channel TV) two different war documentaries and an episode of Dad's Army on the telly. Well that told me then, didn't it. She was right.
    I find it to be rather unhealthy. It is not necessary to recycle in tiniest detail the events of nearly 70 years ago when the rest of the world has moved on. Of course it's important to preserve the memory of the war's victims, but the incessant rehashing risks devaluing everything.
    There's one aspect I find particularly disturbing though, casting German actions in terms of theatrical evil while lionising exactly the same things done by the Allies.
    It's very easy to do.  The Nazis were evil, right? The Holocaust. Received Opinion at its most fundamental. But what about the Germans who were just ordinary people fighting a war in the same fashion as their opponents? Just like the Brits, Canadians, Aussies, Americans, Russians and countless more. Your dad, your granddad, your uncle. Germans doing the same things as them, because they were German and their country was at war. No war crimes, just the horror of conflict. Still evil? No more than your granddad.
    Unfortunately not in the eyes of documentary makers. A couple of ones I've seen recently spring to mind: one about air defences in which Dad's Army style Home Guard anti-aircraft gunners were described in those terms, and one about the German plans to bomb America. That last one had plenty of justifiably nasty stuff to talk about in the underground slave labour factory making rockets, but then they started talking in the same terms about Luftwaffe pilots planning near-suicidal missions using long range seaplanes as bombers, or even the team of spies sent to plant bombs in New York. At the same time as we were pulverising their cities with thousand bomber raids and sending teams of SOE spies - or in modern parlance, terrorists - in to plant bombs in German targets. Still theatrical evil? Time to look in the mirror. And then perhaps time to read for a moment about the bombing of Dresden.
    I believe it is the power of television that has done most to keep us largely at peace over the last 60 years or so. The horror of what is being and has been done on their name can no longer be completely concealed from the populace when high definition colour video lands on their screens the next day. The Americans learned this in Vietnam, a war lost as much in the living rooms of Middle America as in the jungles of Indo-China.
    I feel something's been lost though in the way British television deals with the Second World War. We're presented a nauseous pantomime of recycled horror that is as formulaic as a real pantomime, something that significantly cheapens the very important message. It's important to never forget, but we have to move on from this.


  1. Channel 5 is in particular very prone to broadcast documentaries on this kind of thing, or disasters generally, with Countdown to Murder my current favourite if I want to see a basically dispiriting tale of jealous hate.

    I agree that Britain is obsessed with the War. That said, it's not a bad thing that we are constantly reminded of the acute discomforts and horrors that war brings, and the plain fact that a big war creates huge and lasting problems that touch the lives of everyone, and may take decades to resolve.

    Depressingly, no country on the planet can afford to appear weak. The world is still full of controlling dynasties and 'Glorious Leaders' who can, and regularly do, provoke conflicts in which ordinary people suffer. On the whole I personally think it's better for a country like ours to constantly keep war (however stereotyped) in mind, than to let the subject drop and pretend that the world is pink and fluffy. Better still, of course, to be told the proper objective truth about who did what and why, but then that doesn't get people watching.


  2. I think you are right Jenny, we should let it rest. It is all about time though I feel. The memories of old conflicts fade with the passage of time for if they didn't we would still be mourning the loss of life of people in the Napoleonic and other historical wars. The two 'great' wars remain the target of our grief because of the numbers who were killed, tortured, brutalised and maimed ikn those conflicts but all war is nasty. I think it is right to keep record but not right to constantly harp on about what happened in the past. These events should be disclosed to our children when they are old enough to appreciate what really happened and take it in. In that respect I think records should be kept but only in specific places such as museums or mausoleums.

    Shirley Anne x

  3. We get those same shows in the U.S. But, they're less visible to the average viewer because of the huge number of shows available on cable or satellite.

    I think it's important for broadcast media to continue informing the public about these events because many of our current world problems stem from previous wars.

    And, the errors of the past are too easily forgotten.

    Joni XO

    1. Problem with that Joni is that we DON'T learn from our mistakes in the past do we? We continue to war when we know that wars have been fought in the past. No matter how much we remember about the wars passed we still do it anyway.

      Shirley Anne x

  4. Not so sure. Eastern europe, where the holocaust was not a great part of history, is still extremely racist, particularly against jews and gypsies.
    And frankly not so many german children and grandchildren believe their elders who 'never heard the planes'. Very few families I've met have not been fractured on those rocks. And of course there are parts of Berlin now, let alone germany, that I won't venture into for safety's sake, given the number of neo nazis about.
    Sure, the mindless self congratulation gets a bit much, along with the endless dads army repeats. But the basic message that there is human evil and it's often tied to minority persecution does help. Without it...LGBT people in Russia can tell you what happens.

  5. seeing things as they were inside Nazi Germany is surprisingly (or perhaps, unsurprisingly, but certainly disproportionately) rare. It was quite instructive reading Gunther Grass' autobiography Peeling the Onion - he ended up in the SS... and I've just stopped reading Hans Fallada's Alone In Berlin because it is just too bleak for me at the moment and the atmosphere of Nazi Berlin is evoked so horribly well, and makes me think we could be heading the same way.

  6. Well done, Jenny, for having the courage to speak out. We should never criticise or condemn someone for being proud of their country. Those Luftwaffe pilots were just as committed to their country's fight as the bravest Spitfire veteran. It's the countries leaders who were at fault, and that includes the Allied powers who starved and hounded Germany into extremism after WW1 in the name of retribution.

    The continuing strength of Nazism in Germany is spine-chilling, but so are the pronouncements of certain political groups in our own country. The European Union has its weaknesses, but it's surely infinitely better to trade with one another than to fight.