View Full Version : The ToryGraph, pensum on national identities

13-05-2005, 15:55:44
I still read the Torygraph on occasions, thinking that it must have embraced some kind of modernism, after all these years, and then I find this type of editorial. This is the Sun's philophy, only wordier... Interesting, in a way, because it shows this type of thinking will probably never go away, and is not linked to the proximity (more and more remote) of WWII, but to the way these people define their identity and self worth (in Britain on this question and in the rest of the world on each country's particular agenda).

Interstingly, the author doesn't adress his 'young collegue' opinion, which to me is the center of the debate about national feelings.

We keep on mentioning the war because we treasure our freedom
By Tom Utley
(Filed: 13/05/2005)

During my gap year, 30 years ago, I worked as a barman and waiter in a hotel in the north of France, whose patron was fiercely proud of all things French, and contemptuous of everything British. One evening at dinner, after he had gone on for even longer than usual about our national hopelessness as lovers and our disgusting habit of eating jam with our meat (he was thinking of redcurrant jelly and cranberry sauce), my patience snapped and I made the cheap and obvious point: "Who liberated you in 1944?"

He was ready for that one. "The Canadians," he replied, triumphantly.

"Oh yes?" I said. "And where did they come from, to liberate you?"

"From French Canada," he said.

But of course they didn't. The Canadians and Americans couldn't possibly have mounted an amphibious invasion of occupied France from a distance of 3,000 miles. They came, as I gloried in pointing out, from the Channel ports of England, only 30 miles or so from where we were sitting in the Pas-de-Calais. And that was possible only because, from the fall of France to the entry of the Americans into the war, Britain and her empire alone had kept la flamme de la liberté burning in Europe. My French employer's national pride prevented him from acknowledging this, just as my national pride insisted that he should.

Earlier this week, I had a long and earnest conversation in the pub with one of my brightest young colleagues about this concept of national pride. He told me that it was an absurd notion, because we could not rationally take pride in anything for which we were not ourselves morally responsible. He was certainly pleased that his grandparents' generation (my parents') had won the war. But since neither he nor I was alive at the time, he could not understand how I could say that I was proud of my fellow countrymen's achievement - or indeed of my nationality, for which I was not morally responsible either. By the same token, he could not understand why any German, born after the war, should be expected to feel ashamed of the Holocaust or his country's Nazi past.

The argument had begun when I said that my national pride had been sorely stung by the photograph of John Prescott in that morning's paper, stuck in the back row at the VE Day commemoration in Moscow, between the president of Latvia and the husband of the governor-general of New Zealand. I was outraged by it. All right, I could see why President Putin had put him there. Tony Blair, showing his usual contempt for history, had gravely offended the Russian's pride by refusing to attend the ceremony, preferring to footle about in Downing Street with his reshuffle of junior nobodies, and sending his buffoon of a deputy to Moscow in his place. Mr Putin was getting his own back.

But, buffoon though he is, Mr Prescott was there to represent the nation of Winston Churchill - the nation that had kept the Western Front going, the nation that had run the hellish Arctic convoys to keep Russia supplied with food and arms, the nation whose General Montgomery had taken the German surrender on Lüneburg Heath, the very event that was being celebrated, 60 years on. He was there, dammit, to represent you and me, and our forefathers whose sacrifice had freed western Europe from the tyranny of the Nazis.

To make the insult worse, there in the front row of the photograph, clustered around Putin in the places of honour, were Jacques Chirac, Silvio Berlusconi, Junichiro Koizumi and Gerhard Schröder - the representatives, I thought in my anger, of the nations of Pétain, Mussolini, Tojo and Hitler.

But I must shut up about that, or else I will offend Thomas Matussek, the German ambassador to the Court of St James's, who sounds to me like a thoroughly decent and civilised man. He is much given to beating his breast like Harry Enfield's German tourist: "I vant to apologise for everysink zat my country did in ze voor." I can well understand how annoyed he is when people like me bang on about it, without going on to say that post-war Germany is a very different kettle of fish from the nation that Hitler ruled.

But I cannot help feeling that Mr Matussek has a special reason for wanting Britons to stop mentioning the war quite as much as we do: his government is very anxious for the United Kingdom to sign up to the European Constitution - and he knows that one of the most powerful factors stopping us is our knowledge of how the Germans behaved between Hitler's election in 1933 and his suicide in 1945. We know that the last man who tried to impose a supranational authority over Europe was Adolf.

Mr Matussek and Mr Blair are not the only ones who want to draw a veil over history, or to block their ears to its lessons. Quite the most preposterous remark of the week was made by Margot Wallström, a European Commissioner from Sweden, who accused Euro-sceptics in Britain and elsewhere of risking another Holocaust by arguing against the European Constitution. I don't know quite where this ridiculous woman picked up the idea that large conglomerations of disparate nations necessarily treat their citizens more humanely than do nation states. But it certainly wasn't from the history books. Stalin's Soviet Union was hardly a happy precedent. Nor, come to think of it, was Hitler's Third Reich. But there I go again (sorry, Mr Matussek).

I would have thought that the lesson of history is that it is a jolly good idea for Britain, with its quaint and irrational unwritten constitution, which always has and always will make a Holocaust unthinkable here, to remain semi-detached from continental Europe. That way, there will always be a launch-pad available to free nations, from which to mount another liberation of Europe when the next Hitler or Stalin comes along. I just wish that Mr Blair would stop mucking about with the constitution that has kept us free.

I wreaked a terrible revenge, by the way, on my employer in France. In the course of one of his diatribes against Britain, he warned me to go easy on the French mustard, because moutarde grise de Dijon was much stronger than the English variety. On my next afternoon off in Calais, I bought a tin of good old Colman's English mustard powder. I mixed some up, and issued a challenge to my boss: I would swallow a heaped teaspoon of Dijon mustard, if he would swallow a teaspoon of Colman's. He accepted the challenge, poor fool. You should have seen the look on his face. It made me proud to be British.

13-05-2005, 15:58:31
It's ok to come back and post funny stories about your dad helping you wank, but this is totally unacceptable.

13-05-2005, 15:59:39
Shit like that just pisses me off.

Fucking wanker. On the other hand maybe things will eventually change if his young colleague has a more sensible viewpoint.

13-05-2005, 16:01:19
Also, the French suck.

13-05-2005, 16:01:41
The British suck too.

13-05-2005, 16:02:09
The French Canadians clearly suck the most.

He should have laughed at his French employer for being liberated by French Canadians. HA HA!


13-05-2005, 16:04:30
Yes, the French Canadians do combine the worst of two hemispheres. Clearly the have the market cornered on suckage.

13-05-2005, 16:06:30
What's the must sucky country in the southern hemisphere, immediately Australia springs to mind but it might require more thought.

13-05-2005, 16:11:43
Australia's the early leader, but I've got to believe there's a country in Africa that can edge it out. If only thanks to the genocide, AIDS, and literacy categories.

13-05-2005, 16:14:06
They'd still have more culture and better TV.

13-05-2005, 16:16:47
True. And less Australians.

13-05-2005, 16:17:23
Very true.

Immortal Wombat
13-05-2005, 17:03:15
Paraguay (http://apolyton.net/forums/showthread.php?s=&threadid=79268)

13-05-2005, 17:06:26
yet I'm sure some paraguayans are insanely proud of some stuff their forefathers did, and view the rest of the world through that lens

13-05-2005, 17:06:56
that woman on the poly credit card pop-ups look positively vampiric

13-05-2005, 17:07:23
I don't get the pop-ups.

13-05-2005, 17:09:12
what, you're some kind of premium member? :lol:

13-05-2005, 17:09:38
I have Firefox. :)