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World at War: the history lesson

At schools a history essay often set is whether history repeats itself. I always considered no, as we might learn from our mistakes, but now I’m not that sure. I have been revisiting the series World  at War. Made in 1973, produced by Jeremy Isaacs and narrated by Laurence Oliivier, it was arguably the best documentary series ever made. As it was made only 27 years after VE Day it was possible to interview the likes of Albert van Speer, Admiral Doenitz and countless who had experienced war, the Blitz and the oppression of Nazi rule.

So here’s my point. The six countries that formed the European Community were committed to avoiding the horrors of future warfare. Germany had invaded the other 5 (France ,Italy, Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg). The EEC morphed into the EU, driven by unelected Eurocrats at a pace that many (and 51% in the recent Referendum) found uncomfortable. It was a grave weakness of the remain campaign that they failed to emphasise the positive of European peace.

Take the Netherlands. They remained neutral in World War One. When Germany invaded in 1940 they had no proper army with which to resist. Rotterdam surrendered and after doing so was bombed. 30,000 lives were lost. The Gauleiter Arthur Seyss-Inquart went for a Protectorate-type of government fostering the Dutch Nazi party that represented about 15% of the populace. However there was resistance and this was ruthlessly crushed. The efficient Dutch civil service produced identity cards where religion was recorded. As result 105,000 0f 140,000 Jews were slaughtered mainly in the camps. Even when the Allied invaded the Germans held out in the North and west of Holland and the population suffered starvation. As with all 6 founding EEC nations, they suffered a horrible war. 70 years of peace is no mean achievement, look at the Middle East where have been 6 wars over the same period, with one Arab league country – Iraq – invading another Kuwait and involved in a 8 year war with Iran. So when a Brexiteer tells me as he did last week that the UK can go it alone  with its Dunkirk spirit, I don’t remind him that Dunkirk was a messy clearance of troops out-manoeuvred by the Wehrmacht but rather that there is no now need for a wartime spirit. Thank Goodness.

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About Henry Elkins

A keen researcher of family ancestors, Henry will be reporting on the centenary of World War One. More Posts