A fascist dictator is losing the war that he initiated. With one last throw of the dice, a brand new and unstoppable weapon, he aims to turn the tide, but it turns out to be one last defiant gesture.
November 1944, the Nazi armies are in retreat as the Allies advance across Europe. But the Germans under Werner von Braun have developed a rocket that can send bombs across the channel, but without accurate aim. A launch programme aims to terrorise the population of London.
In his book V2, Robert Harris tells the story of the ‘successes’ and failures, particularly from the point of view of an English woman trying to track down the launch sites, and a German man somewhat half-heartedly engaged in the launch processes. Their two stories are effectively interweaved in a compelling narrative – Harris is a great storyteller.
At the end of the war, the engineers under von Braun were of course transmitted to the USA, and became the core of the subsequent space programme, leading to the first Moon landing in 1969. They were always more interested in creating rockets to fly into space than they were in warfare.
The consequences of war are many and unpredictable.
It’s VE day, marking the 75th anniversary of the ending of the Nazi regime and its attempt to take over Europe.
European countries are each celebrating in their own way. Yes, we should thank those whose sacrifice made this possible, and reflect on their achievement. It is a shame that they cannot do this together at this time.
Yet also this is a bitter-sweet moment. In our reflection, should we consider why Europe fell apart into two major wars between 1918 and 1945?
Should we consider the irony that this is happening just as Brexit and economic strains are apparently in the process of destroying that long post-war project (EU) of bringing the European nations together to end the scourge of war that had scarred the continent for centuries?
Should we consider the irony that populist leaders are again controlling many of the world’s major countries? The nazi leader was one such, who believed that he alone had the right prescriptions for his people. How wrong he was, and how wrong they all are.
I’m not the only one to notice a certain cognitive dissonance between the current D-Day celebrations in Normandy and the actions of our leaders.
Out of the experience of World War came a determination that such an event should never happen again, never again would European and other major countries resolve their differences by war. This led to the creation of international institutions including the UN, NATO, WTO, and ultimately the EU.
So there we have the leading politicians of France and UK, M Macron and Mrs May, pledging future cooperation, while in the process of the appalling Brexit negotiations that have signally failed to produce cooperation. While at home the ‘colleagues’ who have connived in removing Mrs May, due to their failure to support her, argue over the minutiae of negotiating positions with the EU – like monkeys arguing over scraps of food. Supported by M Macron, the EU has concluded negotiations and is determined to ‘give’ nothing of substance. The two sides appear determined to not agree.
And of course, there is Mr Trump, determined in his course to undermine all those collaborative institutions, because America can be great again by bullying every country individually in one-to-one negotiations. And the Brexiteers are willing lambs to this slaughter, in the supposed name of making UK great again.
Sometimes current politics seems like Alice in Wonderland!
Graves are at the American Cemetery, Colleville su Mer, Normandy
The Rise of Fascism Through the Eyes of Everyday People
As one of a generation haunted by discovering the then-recent calamity of WW2, now disturbed by the rise in populism across the world, I found this a timely book by Julia Boyd.
It tells the story of the Third Reich through the eyes of people who visited or lived in Germany through the days of Adolf Hitler’s ascent to power, its consolidation, the increasing drumbeats towards war, and the war itself.
What is remarkable is how many people gave the Nazi regime the benefit of the doubt, despite the clear signs, such as the centralisation of all power, rescinding of civil liberties and press freedom, the early concentration camps, the persecution of Jews, the burning of books (all in 1933) through to Kristallnacht (1938) and the subsequent descent into war.
Of course, the desire to avoid another war was a major part of this, and there is the interesting story of Neville Chamberlain’s vain attempt to make peace in Munich in 1938, and Hitler’s dismissive attitude to the whole affair.
The book presents an interesting story, perhaps a bit long-winded at times. It certainly opened my eyes to some things, such as the fact that Germany welcomed English and American tourists throughout the 1930s, and many found the country very efficient and friendly, except where they came face to face with the persecution of Jews and supposed non-aryans.
The stories from the 1920s and early 1930s show that, after making a fair recovery from WW1, Germany was not in a good place after the shock of the great depression. The arduous reparation terms imposed by the Allies at the end of WW1 were a major cause of German suffering and dissatisfaction. It seems that these were major factors in the rise to power of Hitler.
The evident parallel today is the rise of populism following the 2008 financial crash, and the subsequent failure to make due reckoning with its causes. The missing factor today is there is no sense of national persecution similar to that caused in Germany by the WW1 armistice terms.
In the case of Donald Trump and the US, it is maybe too early to say how far the parallels go – but he clearly came to the presidency by exploiting white male dissatisfaction with the status quo that had come about – economic, racial and misogynistic. On the positive side, the US constitution appears to be much more robust in resisting over-centralization of power than was Germany in the 1930s.
I wrote this post a while ago, but didn’t publish it because it seemed too negative. But then again it is facing the truth, they are coming thick and fast…
Disasters are in the nature of things. Life is evolution and change. Galaxies collide, solar systems merge, orbiting objects crash into each other, storms and subterranean events cause cataclysmic events on planets. So however stable things might seem, it is inevitable that disasters will occur.
So is it any surprise that disasters are also caused by human beings. However, we do seem to be particularly good at creating the conditions for them, e.g. we:
invest in new sources of fossil fuels that we know are not sustainable, thereby exacerbating the global warming we know is happening – and continue to prevaricate on taking effective action to minimise and mitigate its effects.
degrade our soil and food with chemical-based farming, when biological and organic methods are the only sustainable way.
base our economic system solely on growth, regardless of the quality of that growth and its ecological non-sustainability.
propagate increasing inequalities that history tells us are not sustainable and result in conflict, yet refuse to contemplate alleviatory measures, such as taxes on financial transactions, wealth and land.
elect those who base their campaigns around separation and collective illusions, such as making countries ‘great again’, standing above others.
fill our seas with plastic, to the extent that our food coming from the oceans includes increasing residues of it.
cut down forests to create more land to feed animals for food or grow more oil, thereby removing the planet’s lungs (analogy).
globalise everything such that (with climate change) diversity of species is drastically reduced.
invest in escalation of arms including nuclear, chemical and biological weapons that no sane person would wish to see ever used.
The entrenched status quo appears to be manipulated by the main beneficiaries (the rich and powerful) such that any rapid change of direction is not possible.Read More »
In “The Heart of Man”, Erich Fromm relates social narcissism to the Roman Catholic Church and to the Renaissance, in an illuminating discussion on the nature of periods of Renaissance which might give us clues to the nature of a New Renaissance.
Humanism and Fanaticism
When considering narcissism in large groups, such as major religions, Fromm suggests that there are counteracting forces of narcissism and anti-narcissism at work. He uses the Roman Catholic Church as an example, the personal humility that is at the heart of Christ’s teaching being at the opposite end of the scale to the intense narcissism of a church that believes it is the only chance of salvation and its officers provide the only path to God.
From many perspectives, 2016 was a disturbing year, when many of the certainties of the post-WW2 consensus broke down. All over the world, forces seem determined to put the clock back – break down the EU, vote in authoritarian right wing governments, re-establish white supremacy in US, and US dominance over world, re-create the USSR, re-establish the caliphate, stop the establishment of democracy, establish Chinese dominance in E Asia… The spectre of the uncertain 1930s hovers in the air.
It is easy to be discouraged. We just need to remember the truism that the day is always darkest just before the dawn. And the only thing we can influence directly is our own psyche and doings in the world. There is always room for hope, and being the best we can in the world, fulfilling our own true selves.
See the Dalai Lama’s quote in the featured image.
I was brought up watching Westerns on TV. Remember, the good guys always won, and sometimes villains were redeemed.
My mother used to talk about when a distant relative Uncle Wag came to stay during the war (WW2 for her generation). She didn’t talk about the war much, but then Lincoln was itself not hugely affected, receiving just the odd few bombs.
Wag came for a few weeks, I think probably as respite from the blitz in London. He used to sit in the living room smoking his pipe.
The big thing about Uncle Wag was that he was delighted to be able to smoke his pipe in the house. At home in London, he had to smoke outside. If his wife found him smoking inside she would throw the pipe out of the window!
Most people smoked pipes or cigarettes then, but not my mother. The health hazards were unknown or kept quiet. I wonder what the equivalent might be today – I suspect it’s those dreaded pesticides that are sprayed on all our food crops, but I could be proved wrong. They seem to be doing a good job of killing off bees.
The picture is not Uncle Wag, but Bing Crosby,
taken at around that period by Franklin D. Roosevelt,
via Wikimedia Commons