It can be difficult, at times, to write seriously about Nazis and Nazism. Not only because so much about them, from ludicrous goose-stepping to Chaplin moustache, is utterly ridiculous: but also because i grew up with the humour of those who lived through the War.
Not just Spike Milligan, whose persistent ridiculing of Herr Fuhrer contributed richly to his comedy …but my gran, who survived the Blitz over here, and my father, who literally lost home and country abroad as a direct result of Nazi invasion. All three, in their different ways, took the piss.
Still, on the day that David Cameron presumes to lecture us on “British values”, there is a serious point to be made around Nazi salutes and “British values”.
Still, let’s start with a bit of silliness. Here’s a couple of pics i mocked up because i sometimes have too much time on my hands. Like if you like them: don’t if you don’t.
First, here is that stupid awful evil man…
…and here is some riffing on the Sun pics…
…but here is something a good deal more serious, taken from the BBC archives.
This was the England Football team visiting Germany in May 1938. Did they all spontaneously decide to do Nazi salutes for a lark?
I doubt it. What it says is that the advice of someone very highly placed in the UK establishment, was that appeasement remained the way to deal with the looming problem of Nazi ambition.
No excuse, as there might have been in 1933, that Nazism was all terribly new and no-one quite understood what they had in mind for the Jews, for the Slavs, for the homosexuals and every other minority on their hit list. For this was two months after the Anschluss, the German invasion of Austria and erasure of a sovereign nation from the map: it was the same month that the government of Czechoslovakia began its ultimately futile mobilisation to resist a similar invasion.
Some slight sympathy, perhaps, for this establishment: for what many who now condemn Chamberlain and his ilk forget is that he was far from out of tune with popular sentiment. In October 1938, a historic by-election for the Oxford parliamentary constituency was fought on almost a single issue: appeasement. And the appeasers won.
Clearly, doing nothing about Nazism was not a policy that appealed solely to upper class nobs and a certain sort of politician: the public, too, liked it, continued to like it until almost the very last moment when war became inevitable.
This, then, is worth remembering on a day when a Prime Minister, for reasons of populist soundbite and little else, is on his feet talking about British values. Are we really so liberal, so committed to goodness and niceness that there is nothing racist or Nazi in British politics?
I’d like to think so. But then i think of pictures like this, taken from the Guardian. Our very own homegrown Fascists, led by Oswald Mosley strutting around in ’30’s Britain:
But that was the 30’s and we are different now. Aren’t we? Sadly, there are still some who think otherwise, as illustrated by this pic from the EDL Review:
And then, bringing us full circle is this unfortunate fashion faux pas from the present Royal generation:
Youthful hi jinks. Of course! After all, it would be wholly unreasonable to expect an individual, then third in line to the throne, to know much about recent history, much less, the Holocaust.
And then there is today’s exercise in stage-strutting. Cameron on the importance of deradicalisation and spotting, early, the signs that miscreant youth is going to grow up to social destructiveness.
I have much sympathy with the line that says that nothing was further from the mind of the 7-year-old Princess Elizabeth, back in 1933, when she played at giving the Nazi salute. And yet…
I have very little sympathy with the one-sided view espoused by Cameron that the ONLY threat to British society and British values comes from radical muslims. Even less with the proposal on which the Home Office is now consulting, that as part of its Prevent strategy, nursery staff and childminders should be subject to a ‘duty’ to report toddlers they suspect of being at risk of becoming terrorists.
Because if there is one thing guaranteed to exacerbate radical resentment it is this: that one segment of society, the less white, muslim segment, should see its children subject to policing and interrogation at the least suspicion that they are learning anything but pure British values.
While another segment, the privileged, the upper class, the Royal, should be exempt from such policing. I detest ISIS. I detest Nazism.
But if we are going to investigate families with a history of dabbling in extreme and non-British values, perhaps we should start at the top. Who knows: it might make the process more acceptable to the rest of us.