It’s that time of year again: Sophie’s Choice, Schindler’s List and Der Untergang (The Downfall) have all been trotted out on TV once more, last night the Dutch remembered their dead with lots of bugle calls, pealing bells, minutes of silence, black outfits, bowed heads and faces set in masks of noble, earnest grief.
Today, though, it’s party time in Holland. Liberation Day is being celebrated in a blaze of orange, red-white-and-blue. The country is littered with bandstands, bouncy castles, portable beer pumps and Canadians who can’t get enough of Dutch gratitude. The problem is: to remember May 5th 1945 with any clarity at all you’d have to be at least 70 years old. Like me, in fact. So how many of those oldies are there? The vast majority of the population here either knows about World War II and Dutch suffering second hand or, seeing as many come from places like Turkey, Morocco, Ethiopia, Somalia, Ghana and Iraq, don’t know anything at all and probably don’t care either. All this means that, in another ten years or so, there’ll be no one left in this country who has ever heard the menacing roar of overflying Stukas or harsh German voices barking orders during a razzia in their street. And who will remember the sickly taste of sugar beet bread, sugar beet soup, sugar beet mash and the, by comparison, exquisite flavour of tulip bulbs and potato peel? Yes, the Netherlands is ready to leave it all in the past and move on. In any case, all these national holidays are bad for the economy. People should work their butts off and pay taxes, not dance in the park and get drunk.
The end of World War II is now 65 years behind us and the need to remember is no longer urgent. Other wars and holocausts have vied for our attention since and let’s face it: man has learned nothing at all from them. Identifying an enemy and then blasting the bejezus out of them has always been a good way to unite a country and never more so now we’ve all gone multicultural.
Actually, the only country that really seems to have learned from past events is Germany itself. The way the German people -even the under sixty-fives who could not possible have been involved in any way- have donned their hairshirts and atoned for the crimes of the Nazis to an extent unparallelled in human history. Not only has Germany paid billions upon billions in reparations to its former victims, it has made certain that nothing like the Holocaust will ever again be the result of German actions by passing anti-Nazi legislation so draconian that the question “isn’t that going a bit over the top?” seems entirely justified. A strong vein of anti-militarism now runs through German society where previously there was none.
But most of all Germany has redeemed itself through hard work and iron self-discipline. While the British wasted time revelling in their victory, queueing patiently for their rations and looking forward to the 1966 World Cup, the Germans worked. The French also took their time giving up their four- hour al fresco lunches and their barefoot grape treading, but the Germans worked at their lathes, in their foundries and on their autobahn system, creating an economic powerhouse unrivalled in Europe. The Italians, once the guns fell silent, went back to what they do best: get a haircut and ogle the girls at the Scala di Spagna. OK, they have woken up since and now build jolly fine cars when they’re not on strike. The Germans, though, worked. And worked. And worked. As a result, they are now the dominant economic force in Europe and the ones who sign most of the cheques. To cut a long story short: from the hideous aberration and the murderous excesses of the Thirties and Forties Germany has gone on to be a powerful force for good. Long may it last. It deserves much better from us than constant reminders of a tainted past and modern jibes at the occasional poolside dispute over a sunbed in Majorca.
Shame, then, on the British who (in the words of Liberal Democrat Nick Clegg and -mark!- the only man worth voting for tomorrow) are still stuck in the lazy anti-German “who won the war then, sonny?’ groove. Ask yourselves who won the peace. Shame also on Israel. It has every reason and right to remember the Holocaust as a brutal attempt at the eradication of their race. What it hasn’t got is the right to tar with the anti-semitic Holocaust brush everyone who dares disagree with the way the Jewish State operates in the Middle East.
And most recently, shame on Greece which, after a past filled with economic mismanagement, dictatorship, tax-dodging shipping billionnaires and civil unrest, managed to lie its way into the eurozone. Well, the chickens have come home to roost and Greece needs a massive bale-out. Guess who’s doing most of the baleing? Right: Germany. A reason for profound gratitude, you would think. But no. The Greeks are up in arms. Not only must the loan be repaid, there’s also interest due on it. This is, for Athens, too much to bear. Let’s call this German reparation for their wartime occupation of Greece, they say. I hope Angela Merkel will tell them where to go. I know a German phrase she could use, but it’s not printable.
That said: glad to be back.