Making Hay 1
The star turn at our day at the Hay Literary Festival was Neil McGregor (the recent tsar and star of the British Museum) and Cambridge History Professor Richard Evans discussing “Germany and Memory”.
Dont talk about the War, f*** me , that’s all they talked about. Except when McGregor told of when Cameron and Merkel came to the German exhibition at the BM last year. One of the iconic exhibits was the VW Beetle. Created by the Nazis, the car became a symbol of Western revolt against excessive consumerism in the 60s and 70s.
Anyway the two heads of state stood by the car, the impulse for the photo op was to get in. But who was going to drive. There was a huddle of PR men, with Brexit looming ,mistakes could not be made. So they didnt get in.
But why has Germany become so democratic, so intelligent and sensitive about its past while we Brits just bang on and on about Spitfire, Dunkirk and the Blitz. They talk sensitively about colonial matters, we think bygones should be just that. Why are they responsive to the refugee crisis and we not?
Of course the speakers lurched into to the self hate that George Orwell so brilliantly spotted in our liberal leaning elite. But they had forgotten a couple of major points. The German state is only 150 years old and in that time they have been defeated and occupied twice. Deep down, their national consciousness has a very different view of the success or failure of the nation state.
England has been a nation state for over 1000 years and not invaded since 1066. Our relative obsession with the War comes from our decline and our not unnatural tendency to look back at our last days of glory. Just as 11 million German refugees since 1945 has coloured their attitudes towards that problem ,so the fact that between1939-45 Britain had two million under arms has affected our population. I had a legal, natural, step and father in law who all wore khaki.
Always, and with Brexit in mind, remember that we were the only European nation not to be conquered and occupied. This gives us a rather different perspective to the Germans(and others) who were not only annihilated, humiliated, starved, occupied but carved up. As well as having 11 million of their very distant cousins ethnically cleansed from Eastern Europe. In 1945 the whole continent may have been starving but we had a Victory parade. So there.