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Tony Grist

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Talking About Myths [Jun. 7th, 2004|09:10 am]
Tony Grist
This weekend has been taken over by memories of D Day. I know I've got to tread a fine line here, but I hate these establishment bun fights. I'm all for veterans returning to the beaches to quietly remember, but the sight of Prince Charles, who was never in any war, striding around with a chest-full of medals, receiving the homage of the crowd, just brings out the anarchist brat in me.

Britain is blinded to itself by the myth of WWII. I expect the same is true (to a lesser extent) of America. "The Finest Hour", "The Greatest Generation". We slather on the self-righteousness like sun block. Yes, our grandfathers behaved very courageously on the Normandy beaches, but it doesn't do our souls any good to keep going on about it.

40% of British school children have little idea what D Day was about. The tabloids were shocked, but I'm not. D Day is recent history, but in terms of what Britian now is- a post-imperial, multi-cultural nation on the edge of a united Europe- it is as ancient and irrelevant as Mafeking or Waterloo. WWII was the end of All That. By running up the flags and parading the troops and pinning the medals to Prince Charles's chest we are prolonging a fantasy.

But it's a fantasy which still drives British foreign policy. We are history's heroes. We are the world's policemen. We are the cat who "gallops about doing good." Listen to Blair. And look at Blair's record. The Iraqi adventure was dressed up- absurdly- as though it were some sort of moral replay of WWII. Saddam was a bad as Hitler, opponents of the war were guilty of appeasement, the invasion was a liberation.

World War II killed off the British Empire, but reinforced the imperial myth of British superiority- moral, military, cultural. British politicians have traded upon that myth for the last 60 years- but with ever-diminishing returns. Maybe Iraq is the last hurrah. Time to mothball the uniforms and put the medals in a museum display case and go play at something else.
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Comments:
[User Picture]From: mokie
2004-06-09 01:57 pm (UTC)
Here in the U.S., all of the hubbub seems to be the establishment continuing in its efforts to draw a parallel between Iraq and something, anything, other than Vietnam. Considering the dwindling numbers of WWII veterans and the gigantic rubber mallet that is the baby boomers' continued hold on the media, I figure that's a lost cause.

The American obsession with WWII confuses me though. On the one hand, it's a sick nostalgia for the last time we were sure we were the good guys, the last time we were fighting because it was the right thing to do (rather than because there's oil under the dunes), the last time we actually won a war.

But it's not true. The U.S. wanted nothing to do with the conflict in Europe; the newborn media of the time had shown us enough of WWI that we were turned off by the idea of war, and in any case, Europe's squabbles were Europe's problems. Then someone chucked a bomb up our skirts, and then we started talking about the right thing to do, when really we were just trying to save face.

The fact that Hitler really was an evil turd seems almost like a convenience. It's all just so much arrogance and hypocrisy.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2004-06-10 02:07 am (UTC)
I love the gigantic rubber mallet.

Like you, we Brits were mortally afraid of a replay of WWI and only got into the war because we were forced. First we tried appeasement and then we let Hitler get away with invading Czechoslovakia- "a far-off country of which we know nothing"- as Chamberlain so gracelessly put it.

Another thing that gets overlooked in the D Day celebrations is that the war was actually won by the Russians.
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[User Picture]From: mokie
2004-06-11 02:53 pm (UTC)
Which explains the '50s Commie hysteria here nicely, I bet. Makes a lot of sense out of the Cold War in general, actually.

And was never, ever taught in my social studies classes, but then, as far as the public school system is concerned, Russia, black people and liberals didn't actually exist until the '50s-60s. :)
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