The Brexit Blog: Must we mention the war?

"Mythologising and sanitising World War Two’, another trenchant comment on how the current administration is drawing misleading comparisons with the war and Covid 19, as it did with Brexit.

I agree with every word, as many will expect, but Chris Grey has been solid about Brexit and he’s as on the button about Covid 19 being dressed up in Luftwaffe livery to the tune of “We’ll Meet Again”… :slightly_frowning_face::triumph:

But you should read
Heroic Failure : Brexit and the Politics of Pain,” by Fintan O’Toole .
if you haven’t already done so.


Excellent book,I found it fascinating and have lent it to half a dozen people so far :blush:

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I don’t know it - though I am an admirer of Fintan O’Toole - thanks for the recommendation.

FOT is a bit of a Curate’s egg, good in places. He can be tedious in his Brit bashing (though often well deserved) in the Irish Times while not being strident enough about the issues actually on his doorstep.

Trust this is in the spirit of your thread @Peter_Goble

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You’re very thoughtful, Graham.

I’m not sure that my spirit wasn’t about 75% dry cynicism, 10% anger, 7,5% despair at the sentimental gullibility of the masses, 5% fear of history repeating itself by the US drumming up another major conflict, and 2,5% idle time.

There is a pretty frosting of Goble mischief round the edges, and the final product needs a vigorous stir so it hits the spot. :stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye:

My Normande ancien combattant NDN (Next Door Neighbour) took a bullet in his chest that exited via his lower belly aged 7 (in war-time France during the battle for Normandy and the counter-attack) .

He never knew who fired it, Hun, French, Yank or Brit. He fumes with anger over politicos who use the war as a contemporary comparator with Covid; he says: war is Hell on Earth, Covid is an inconvenience. They have no idea and should fermer le clapet, ferme là…! :grinning:


I worked a lot in Russia 10-15 years ago, and one of the things that surprised me was the importance Russians attached to what we call the Second World War (they see it as a war between Russia and Germany, with a few skirmishes around the edges - and believe me it can be hard to challenge this view when they get going - the Germans lost more tanks in the battle for Kursk, for example, than in the whole of the rest of the war).

One school I worked with, in Ostashkov, had run a project in which the children had been loaned cameras and told to go out and photograph the aspect of the town most important to them. More than half of the kids went straight to a ruined and bullet-scarred wall left standing as a memorial.

The war did loom large in my own childhood in England - mainly in the form of films and boy’s games - but I had experienced nothing like the Russian reverence. I remember VE day anniversaries, including those of 25 and 50 years, and many poppy days that one might suppose endowed with a greater significance the nearer they were to the reality of the war. But no - in fact what seems to be happening in England, especially over the last decade or so, is that as the reality of the war recedes into the past, and real memories fade, the marking of these anniversaries gains higher and higher profile, and it becomes almost obligatory for anybody in the public eye to wear a poppy.

I do wonder what role the war was playing in the stories Russians told themselves about their country and their identity then, and - the English having perhaps put it largely behind them in the 60s - what the similar elevation of it in English national consciousness now means.


I have Friends who children were taught here that the French and Americans won the war,
A French friend was taught the same and said the English helped a little but mainly the French and Americans. Once I asked where was this great army and where were they based she soon realised it was not exactly true, and that the french army in Africa was actually conscripted from their colonies pretty much as a large number fighting with us.
I think a lot of the untruths was made up by de Gaulle when he tried to uplift the French spirit, a film/ documentary was commissioned by France and made by Marcel Ophuls- La Chagrin et la pitié. Which was made to tell the truth about the wartime France but on release it showed France in such a bad light that it was immediately banned in France but was released in other countries.
Do your own research as many dont like anything that shows France in a bad light.

Later views of the role of the Americans were I think largely shaped by Hollywood.

The French have reason to be ashamed of the Vichy government and its actions, but not of their army: the fight against the German invasion was heroic. It cost more French lives in a month than America lost in the whole of the war; of 3,000 tanks the Germans deployed, 1,800 were put out of action; of 3,500 planes they lost 1,600. Their own death toll was over 50,000, and more than 160,000 wounded.

This was a terrible conflict - the same, remember, that utterly devastated the British army. Dunkirk was later made into a heroic defeat, but it’s worth remembering Churchill’s assessment at the time:

“The heroic resistance of the French army saved the British, and allowed them to continue the war.”


I once took a coach trip from London to Paris. Somewhere in France we stopped for toilets and refreshments at a rather uninviting service stop. Having half an hour to spare, I decided to take a walk around and found a war cemetery on a hillside. There were some allied graves, English, Canadian, Australian, but the vast majority were French, spread across the hillside as far as the eye could see.
Contemptuous attitudes to the courage of the French are clearly misplaced. They saw the Allied evacuation as a betrayal that left them to fight on and die alone.


Remember this?

But but but that’s not what he said!

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I think the presentday Russian attitude to WWII is quite complex, on the one hand there is the horrendous (non-Stalin related death toll) and resentment over many decades at the USSR’s massive contribution to defeating Hitler having been downplayed in many Western accounts of WWII. OTH there is also pride and a sense of enduring Russian resilience as both Hitler and Napoeon, were eventually successfully repulsed.

Of course now this narrative is being redeployed by Putin to promote an idea of Russian exceptionalism and resilience in the face of economic and pandemic uncertainties that have originated beyond the country’s borders.

Yes, probably losing 20,000,000 of its’ citizens might just have that effect I would have thought?

I think maybe Russia/Soviets killed far more of their own during “purges” than have been lost to war. Read about it once…I think

Mark you are correct in your assessment of Russian complexity, and to highlight the astonishing (my words) history of Russia. I worked on contracts - usually short-term ones in several of the former Soviet Satellites before even going to training in a leading Russian Advertising Agency. This gave me a reasonable on-site comparison and rational view of both Russia and it relationships with other countries. It is a fascinating subject and if people are not keen on History per se then I would recommend they read ‘Russe’ by Edward Rutherford, which is a history in novel form, and highly readable (as his is London book).
One thing that stood out for me notably in the Baltic States where there remains a substantial number of Russians - and I stand to be corrected on this as of today, but who were then disenfranchised. The surprise factor was how easy it was to identify the Russians - they were the ones who always smiled when addressed!
Putin has above all driven up the Russian standard of living. A quick view of streetscapes before and after he came to power shows the differences in car ownership, modern stores, lack of queues, and accommodation.
In something over twelve years he has created a remarkable state from essentially a shambles left by Yeltsin and others.
Yes, he has restored National Pride which seems OK for other countries but not for Russia. People decry ‘lack of human rights’ which is not exactly true, whilst forgetting that for centuries there were NO Civil or Human Rights in Russia at all.
Of course Russia is not a perfect state (like the USA or the UK?) but it certainly is a proud and resilient one. Even the now long-lasting sanctions have been met by the ‘Import Substitution’ Scheme created by Putin, which has opened new businesses under private ownership!
Of course (irony warning) of course the West inc. USA never ever tried to interfere in Russia’s affairs did it? Yet now Putin is a real busy boy fixing the elections in seemingly every country in the world, and poisoning their enemies de-dah, de-dah.
If he really is that effective, then maybe he should be standing for Western elections instead of many of the no-hopers here today?

I now await the ‘Troll warnings’ that usually accompany any support shown to Russia!


Not true. Stalin executed an estimated 2,000,000 of his own people including most of the High Command in WW2 which certainly contributed to other deaths. No-one denies that Stalin and the Bolsheviks were brutal and savage (as were the Monarchist ‘Whites’ during The early 1920s)
Exact records were never kept and it is hard o be precise, but nothing like the WW1 and WW2 slaughters.
Nobody is trying to whitewash the brutal regimes of the Romanovs either. The miracle is that the Russians have survived all that, where many countries didn’t. No-one rebuilt Russia after World Wars, there was no Marshall Plan or rescue packages or even support. They had to do it all on their own, and many hard even harsh decisions had to be made, usually exacerbated and compounded by the Communist mentality of its Leaders.

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Norman, that is what the punters of today want, “no hopers” across the board. Vlad would be ousted if he got in cos of all the “no hopers” in western society would be howling at the gates.

In terms of novels that provide great insight into Russia - after, of course, the greats of the 19th century like Tolstoy - I would single out The People’s Act of Love by James Meek and Red Plenty by Francis Spufford.

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