Friday, 8 May 2020

What are they 'celebrating'?

As the media are incessantly reminding us, today marks the anniversary of the end of the most destructive war in European history. The lack of wars between the major European nations since then is unprecedented; that second world war has instead been followed by a long period of reconciliation and peace between former enemies. The war is certainly an occasion for reflection and memory of the immense losses suffered by families and communities across the continent, and the subsequent reconciliation and co-operation is one for celebration of the way in which, in an imperfect world where conflict and disagreement still exist, the citizens and governments of a continent have managed to resolve their differences without resorting to armed conflict by building relationships and institutions to manage them through discussion and negotiation.
It seems, though, that a jingoistic English nationalist government is asking us to prioritise neither remembering the losses nor celebrating the peace – they want, rather, for us to join in a ‘celebration’ of ‘victory’, militarism, and British exceptionalism. It’s largely based on historical myth about the nature of the war and its ending and is wholly unjustified by the reality of the UK’s position in the modern world. A peace which has been maintained by co-operation and coming together is to be marked by emphasising that the UK stands apart from the rest of the continent (and indeed the rest of the world) because we’re different and special. It is not only nationalism of the worst kind, it is also now being used in an attempt by the English nationalists-who-claim-not-to-be to co-opt people into swallowing the myth of exceptionalism as a cover for the belief that neither Brexit nor a virus can damage the resolve of ‘this plucky island nation’ and that we can magically overcome both without needing to follow the same rules or conventions as others.
So, quiet contemplation of the loss and carnage on all sides – yes, that’s completely appropriate; a degree of relief, or even happiness, that most of Europe learned from the experience that co-operation is better than conflict (albeit tempered by regret at the huge cost of learning that lesson and the way in which one country in particular seems to have learned something completely different) – certainly; celebrating ‘victory’ over ‘enemies’, British exceptionalism, dwelling on perceived past greatness, and glorious isolation – count me out of that.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Completely agree. I am marooned overseas, but a friend in Cardiff tells me that his daughter's street they have organized an vent, but the Union flag is not to be flown!!