On a 75th anniversary

May 5, 2020

This week sees the 75th anniversary of the end of the Second World War, and commemorations somewhat muted under current circumstances. I have to say, I’m in two minds about this.

I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for the war, my father’s two years in Siberia ending in his joining the Anders army, coming to England where he eventually met our mother… his war was a horrific experience of destruction, starvation and disease which separated his family in different directions, and he never got to return home and see his parents again.

I shall be glad that the celebrations in the UK will be muted. We’ve heard enough nonsense about the famous ‘Dunkirk spirit’ and surviving ‘the Blitz’ in connection with the current virus pandemic, from all sorts of idiots who weren’t even alive in the war. My mother was a schoolgirl, and her memories of those awful years were rather different: knitting gloves and scarves for sailors in the Arctic convoys rather than getting an education, and a father who was very frightened as Germans flew over their peaceful bit of the Yorkshire countryside on the way to bomb the hell out of the docks in Hull…

And yet, even more strongly, at a time like this I feel that the ending of that war must not go unremembered. It was fascism that was defeated, an ideology that triaged people into human and non-human prior to extermination, an ideology that subjugated and enslaved humans to a war machine. I carry no brief for Stalin and Soviet communism, but we are not aware in our comfortable West that without the immense sacrifices of the Soviet Union, the war may well not have been won. And the post-War short-sightedness of Western leaders soon plunged us into the Cold War, a mistake that some of our current ‘leaders’ are apparently eager to ape in their posturing towards China at present.

One aspect of George Orwell’s great novel Nineteen Eighty-four which is often overlooked is his notion of the three world power blocs being constantly at war. That has always been the case and is still going on, if you look closely enough at those parts of the world which slip out of the news bulletins because of the lack of entertainment value: the major powers are fighting proxy wars all over the planet and thousands of innocent people are being killed every year. This supports capitalism’s immensely profitable arms industries, as well as allowing nations to attempt to corner the market in various natural resources which may be in short supply…

Where I’m heading with this is the notion that a lot of us so-called thinkers and intellectuals, particularly in the “free” West, have the idea that we are so much more liberal, tolerant, civilised nowadays, and that therefore the horrors of the past are safely locked away in the history books. We delude ourselves. Capitalism embeds competition and sees no higher cause; collaboration and co-operation removes profits and cannot be allowed. So those organisations which aim to foster international collaboration are emasculated and underfunded – the WHO, the UN – or vilified – the EU.

Human memories are short: the survivors of the last war are dying out. And history has a way of repeating itself if we are not careful. I cannot help thinking that we are actually living in rather dark times.

4 Responses to “On a 75th anniversary”

  1. cooperatoby Says:

    Excellent thoughts. Remebrance Day yesterday here in the Netherlands was thoughtful and poetic, quite different from the militarism of the British version in November (but then that has some justice since Britain was fighting while the Netherlands was occupied). Truus put her 75th anniversary houghts together at http://www.museumperronoost.nl/blog/

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  2. litgaz Says:

    It was Troos’ piece that came up in facebook that prompted me to write, though I’m afraid the Dutch defeated me and facebook seems to have tweaked its translator so it doesn’t work any more… There were several occasions over the years when my father was a guest at various commemorations in the Arnhem area, and it was very moving how the local people remembered and valued the (admittedly fruitless) efforts of the Polish paratroopers. I still have the medals the Dutch government awarded him (and his comrades).

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    • cooperatoby Says:

      Amazing – a Polish paratrooper! They have just shown ‘A Bridge Too Far’ on telly here. I asume you’ve been to the memorial at Oosterbeek (I haven’t I have to say).
      Google Translate should sort out Truus’s article for you (we could clarify anything it can’t cope with).

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      • litgaz Says:

        Yes, been to Oosterbeek, and also to see the monument in Driel, which is the village nearest where the paratroops landed (a lot of them actually in the river)…

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