Thursday, June 05, 2014

Britain matters to Germany

One of the reasons given as to why many in continental Europe do not understand the British lack of enthusiasm for the European Union is that no other country in the EU was bound by being the victor in World War Two.  The war, and being on the right side, was and remains a common cause of pride and identity for the UK.  Not for the UK is there a smidgeon of guilt over what happened in World War Two.  

Compare that to Germany, which has spent the post-war period being reminded that it was the land that started two wars in the 20th century and committed the world's first modern industrial level form of genocide.  Whereas other states on the continent were either allied to the Nazis, neutral towards them or defeated by them.  Unlike Britain, the idea that the EEC and then the EU would ensure that these countries would never fight each other again, is powerful and is fed, in part, by a sense of national guilt that their ancestors either didn't do enough for peace, or were themselves cheering on the militarism that consumed the continent.  The UK can firmly be sure that it didn't start the war, it wasn't neutral and it wasn't defeated, even if geography helped that (Ireland remained neutral, as it was solipsistically focused on its own bloody independence, rather than seeing the evil on the continent).   

Don't underestimate the different psychological effect that Britain takes for granted, in having its war veterans appear on D-Day, telling their stories, with pride and heroism.  Feeding the nationalist pride of just victory, is not something that happens on the continent.  At best some resistance fighters, at worst those who fought for fascism, genocide and totalitarianism, denies the strength of identity based on such history, refocusing pride on more benign identity points, such as language, older history and post-war culture, and the EU as the antidote to the guilt.

It understandably, is never discussed.  Indeed, the new EU Member States that once lay under the jackboot of the USSR have similar issues, with so many in those countries who were a part of systems that oppressed their fellow citizens.

So when Angela Merkel yesterday said "What would have become of Europe if the British people had not found the strength to put their existence at risk in order to save Europe?" it was a welcome sign that, despite the arrogance and smug self-satisfaction of the EU, some in continental Europe will say what is known - Europe today would not be free if it had not had the UK (and the USA) to fight against Nazism and keep Stalin behind an iron curtain.

There is no need to be repeatedly grateful for winning the war, after all most of those alive across Europe bear no responsibility or guilt for what their ancestors did.  I didn't win the war or do anything to help, so I shouldn't claim any esteem from what happened.  

However, it would do well for others in Europe to note the differences in history, and the reasons why the UK does feel confident about its own national sovereignty, history and ability to avoid declaring war on its neighbours.

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