Sunday, December 10, 2017

Simon Hill, Talk about how we took the wrong lesson from WW2


Pope Francis, opposes all nuclear weapons
False sense of security, mental support of fear.
The real priorities, poverty, peace, health and rights are relegated. Nuclear bombs would have a catastrophic effect for humanitarian and environmental solidarity – 122 nations signed on 7/7/2017 an agreement that in addition to nuclear weapons being immoral, they should be made illegal. 

Historian Symon Hill Explores How Britain’s Collective Memory of World War Two has become a justification for all wars since

Symon Hill is a pacifist from the Peace Pledge Union and Fellowship of Reconciliation He also teaches WEA – Workers Educational Association - courses. With a focus on the resistance in the 1st world war, he has only recently started his exploration of WW2. History is always an interpretation of the past. A particular motivation to study WW2 were the arguments he had met (and he found that we had all met) as people working for peace.
These included:
Pro-nuclear: “It was the bomb that ended the war” (WW2).
“If there had been no guns, Hitler would have won”
“People like you were responsible for the appeasement of Hitler in the ‘30s”
“You only have the freedom to say that because of brave men who fought for you.” (in WW2).

The overall difficulty is that people, in one way or another, hold WW2 in their memory as a ‘just’ war, a ‘necessary’ war and that there had been ‘no other choice’ but to go to war.

Symon realized therefore the importance of being able to say something convincing about WW2. Without tackling this collective memory, there is a grave risk and indeed evidence that people have come to see all wars in the same light.

We were reminded of all the references, like Allo Allo and Dad’s Army. He noticed that different ages said different things to him about WW2 and that they revealed subtle differences in reasoning.  Older people, who were actually here during the war remember that England was on the brink of invasion and that is why they had to fight. It was described how membership of the PPE (…) went down during the war, not at the beginning of the war. This showed that it was only when England was in imminent danger of being invaded, did people decide it might be necessary to fight.

Younger people describe how we fought fascism and the holocaust.

We are dealing with living memory and collective memory but they all reinforce a narrative that associates war with the defeat of an oppressive and racist regime. Rather than WW2 being understood as an exception, it is seen as representative of war, in general, making it somehow okay.

Interestingly, both anti war and pro war people have used WW2 as justification of war.

Fascists and fundamentalists are different. The British Armed Forces are also different from the British Armed Forces who fought in WW2.

Whatever view of WW2, it doesn’t make the assumption right that all wars are justified.  There is a conflation of all, even though there is no resemblance and no surviving members.

Another area where this happens is in the production of arms. A good example is the BAE who have built tanks during WW2. Employees still see their work as a proud role, even though their tanks are now used to drive into peaceful protests in Bahrain.

These are the inconvenient truths and they create problems for militants and problems for pacifists.

Some people accuse pacifists of being the ones to appease Hitler in the 1930s. Appeasement was an international policy that involved cooperation between countries as a way to avoid another war.  Appeasement was actually driven, though, by the far right.. They had thought that fascism was a good antedote to communism.

There were many atrocities commited by our side too. The bombing of Horishima and Dresden, where many civilians were killed. The UK were still arming Musillini until 1939 and the US were still selling planes to Japan until 1940.

George Paxton wrote a book ‘Non Violent Resistance to The Nazis. One example was Norwegian Teachers who refused to teach Nazi science. They said it was teaching racism as science.

It is hard to say that the UK atrocities were on a similar level to the fascists. Some peace activists were naïve but were also infiltrated by fascists.

1937 there was the white poppies demonstration, to say no war , outside the House of Commons. Chamberlain had sympathy with Hitler. The British Ambassador to Germany stated that the UK would support Germany as long as she promised not to attack the British Empire.

All through the decade of the 1930s, military spending had been increasing.
 Responses we can use: WW2 had nothing to do with war and the armed forces now.
WW2 would not have happened without fascism being actively wanted in place of communism – The UK was not fighting for democracy.
Accept that pacifists make (and made in the past) some mistakes.
 Show respect for those who felt that they had to fight
Non-violent resistance to fascism.

We have our rights due to centuries of activism, NOT because of wars.

Point out the nationalistic narrative, the way we say ‘we’ did this and ‘they’ did that to us. This is an artificial construct of a country. It builds a historical collective memory to justify war.

When shall we ever learn?

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