Please don't mention the bloody War
Again, politicians are getting hot and bothered about whether Churchill is a saint or a devil. A Tory MP has suggested that parliament have a debate about it. Now. Yes, now. I am a freelance writer, and thus a world champion in procrastination and the related discipline of finding displacement activities, but even I realise that there are more pressing issues for politicians at the moment.
I’m absolutely sick of the obsession with the Second World War. It ended over 70 years ago. And yet we just can’t get over it. My kids have both already been taught about it at school, and they are only six and eight. I studied it over and over again from various angles. I must have watched dozens of War films, and even in the 1980s, I remember reading comics about jungle warfare, with Brits happily machine-gunning Japanese soldiers.
World War Two was not a great triumph. It was a nightmare and a disaster for everyone concerned. If it was a victory, where are Europe’s Jews? Where are medieval Dresden and Coventry? I knew an RAF pilot who had a group photo of his squadron taken when he signed up in 1939. When they tried to re-create it in 1945 he was the only one left. And yet, this is all painted as a glorious event.
We’ve never come to terms with the reality of our history. At school, I never once studied any British history after 1066, and probably the only thing I ever knew about the Empire came from the film Zulu. I could tell you more about the Tet Offensive and Manifest Destiny than British history beyond the War.
Germany has come to terms with its past so much that a comic novel came out a few years ago that imagined Hitler returning from the dead, and being seen as a hilarious spoof. Belgium has a museum about the regime it imposed on Congo.
We just don’t have an accurate or mature understanding of our own history. If we did, we would think and act differently. I’m not saying that we should flagellate ourselves about it, but we should understand that the Empire is a far, far more important part of our past than the War.
We keep hearing about Global Britain. If we’re going to become that, we need to look beyond Spitfires, understand the impact we have had on the whole world, and stop mythologising.