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Gus Mears
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Thought I would set this up as it's interesting and I don't want to derail the poppy thread totally. It's #WARCHAT with me and @BomberPat

 

3 hours ago, BomberPat said:

This is a big thing for me - I detest the rhetoric around the World Wars as "for our freedom", or "for King and country"; no, they just sent a bunch of poor young lads to die hundreds of miles from home for a cause they likely barely understood, and would never benefit from.

I read Harry Smith's latest book recently, and his accounts of the beginning of WW2 chime with what I've heard from older members of my own family - the Northern working class didn't give a toss for the war, or fighting for their country, because they remembered WW1 too clearly, and because they didn't think their country had ever done anything for them, so why should they die for it? It was the formation of the coalition government, and the promise of full employment, the welfare state and a better way that convinced them to fight. And that's what people who spout Churchillian rhetoric these days forget, or don't realise at all, it wasn't about fighting for your country, it was about fighting for what your country could be.

 

Rant over and back to poppies, I've worn a white poppy in the past, but for the most part I won't bother. I'll probably pop some change in the tin, but I'm only likely to wear one if I'm doing something public-facing and, cynically, that's damage limitation as much as anything.

Ultimately, it's a choice, and it's an act of charity and of remembrance, that it's become a symbol of patriotism I find ugly and crass.

 

2 hours ago, Gus Mears said:

I think it is important to remember that there was a clear battle of ideology in WW2. It's historically naive to lump together WW1 and WW2 in terms of origins and justifications; the former being very much a traditional 'dick-swinging' European war of alliances and territory, the latter being territorial to some extent, but also constructed on opposing world views that could not co-exist long-term without submission by one party. WW1 was certainly a case of sending "poor young lads to die" for nebulous reasons, I don't agree with you in terms of WW2. 

The stated end point of Hitler's Germany was the world and elimination of various races. The stated end point for Kaiser Wilhelm II was a greater degree of territory within Europe and the respect of a European system of monarchies which he felt looked down on Germany as a gauche and upstart nation. The justification for fighting the former far outstrips the latter if you believe in any idea of 'just-war' (if not, fair enough, but it's a different argument). 

That's not to say the public, particularly the working class who bore the brunt of both wars, were necessarily aware of this, as you say. Smith's views have credence to a decent extent, you only need to look at public opinion on the war even after Czechoslovakia. I just think it's an important distinction to make before bundling WW1 and WW2 together. I also don't think it's accurate to say that the people fighting in WW2 would garner no tangible benefit from victory, irrespective of the creation of the welfare state, because the alternative taken to its conclusion was either Britain under Nazi control, or Europe bar-England under Nazi control. Arguments can be made regarding whether Hitler would have attempted to invade Britain without us entering WW2, but having read a shit-load about Hitler and the Nazi regime over the years, I'm convinced that both the man and the ideology were fundamentally geared towards control of the planet, however ludicrous that might seem in practice.

Nazi Germany was one of the few states in history that can fairly be called entirely totalitarian. One of my favourite ever academic articles is Friedrich and Brzezinski's totalitarian model which argues that Nazi Germany was one of the very, very few states that could fairly be labelled as such, due to the systematic and enveloping nature of its control. This is obviously without the raft of contextual evidence available about Nazi Germany. It was, in short, one of the absolute worst regimes to have ever existed. It was a disgusting system that controlled every facet of life and turned violence and justice into semi-arbitrary constructs. It was certainly an ideal worth fighting against even if ours was not an ideal necessarily worth fighting for.

Trying to drag this back on topic, is saying 'we were less bad than the other guy' justification for wearing a poppy? I don't know, but I certainly feel a lot more comfortable wearing one when thinking about WW2 than I do WW1.

 

53 minutes ago, BomberPat said:

Great post Gus, and you're right, it was clumsy wording at best on my part to group the two World Wars together like that. I was thinking ahead to my point about what Harry Smith had said, and skipped a point or two in getting there.

You're absolutely right that fighting against Nazi Germany was as valid a cause as fighting for the prospective future of Britain, but my point there was more around the conflation of the poppy with blind patriotism, and the use of Churchillian and WW2 rhetoric by the right wing to mean "support your country, no matter what", when I believe that many in World War 2 were fighting for an ideal, not fighting to defend a country that, frankly, hadn't given them much reason to want to defend it, in many cases.

The distinction between the causes of WW1 and WW2 is interesting, though - I'm not sure I agree that Hitler would have aimed for total world domination, I think it's more likely that he wanted to carve out those areas of Europe that he considered historically German, or that had large German minorities, and would have been content with that, at least at first. Whether he would have been content with that, and whether those around him had other aspirations, or even whether the events of the War pushed him further towards attempted global domination, is harder to say. I don't believe that he would have made any effort to invade Britain, had we not entered the War, or if somehow it hadn't happened at all. But, as you say, that would still leave the UK alone in an otherwise Nazi-controlled Europe. As an aside to that, I live in Jersey now, and there's still a lot of evidence of Nazi occupation around - you get used to it, but it can be a tad chilling when you stop and think about it. A friend of mine is a painter/decorator who, last year, was fixing up an old barnhouse, facing a busy road, and discovered an enormous Swastika painted on the gable end below the more recent paintjob. A lot of visible old buildings, and old granite walls, had Swastikas carved or painted into them.

I attended a lecture a couple of weeks ago by Gerhard Wolff on "contextualising the Holocaust in European history", and he subscribes to the view that the period of circa 1914 - 1945 can be considered a "30 Years War" in Europe, that there is no period during that time in which Europe wasn't, in part, at war. He pins a lot of the ideological blame on the London Protocol of 1830, which declared Greek independence - this was the first time that a nation was defined in law as being comprised of the State, the Territory, and the People. This, coupled with problems with the post-WW1 Minority Treaties, gave the Nazi ideology a theoretical legal underpinning to claim the Territory where German minorities were present as part of the German State - any Germans, anywhere, should be governed by Germany. It's that ideology that lead Hitler to invade other countries, and that's why I don't think he'd have invaded Britain, or anywhere else that he couldn't claim as being rightly "German", if left to his own devices - that said, he also either believed or at least indulged crackpot theories about Aryan ancestry in Tibet and Antarctica, so there could have been any number of ideological hoops he'd have jumped through to justify a greater and greater land grab.

Interesting stuff.

Personally, I think the ideological hoops bit of your post is key. Nazism was in many ways, from Hitler at the top all the way down to  the man on the street shouting 'Zeig Heil' when they don't really believe in it, cognitive dissonance (an overused phrase, but one I feel holds true here). While obviously hugely dogmatic, one of Hitler's keenest abilities was being able to convince himself of things that weren't true when it was convenient. Goebells memoirs and quite a few other sources illustrate at points how conversation would go from situation-discussing political profitability from it-Hitler actually believing whatever lie he was spinning to gain that profit. Reichstag Fire and the made up Autrsian discontent prior to Anschluss, to name a couple of the top of my head. I believe he would have found an excuse sooner or later to spread to ostensibly non-German nations, even if it was just an expansion of Lebensraum.

Volker Ullrich's relatively recent biography on Hitler changed my mind on the world-rule aspect of Nazi ideology. It (for me, Clive) convincingly argued that the nature of the Nazi regime fundamentally required consistent territorial victories to maintain the aura of invincibility about it, in addition to upholding the portrayal of Hitler as a demi-God, who always won against odds that seemed insurmountable. Without turning this into a book review, one of the best books (probably the best on social history) on Nazi Germany I have ever read of was the Nazi Seizure of Power, which is a look at one typical German town in the late-Weimar/early-Nazi Germany. The extent to which the populace were willing to overlook beating up Jews, the shutting down of civil society, the abolition of the free press etc. due to Hitler's ability to keep having major successes domestically and particularly foreign policy is striking. 

I fucking hate hypothetical history (and the regime probably would have collapsed due to imperial overreach after a point anyway), but without WW2, I think for regime survival (an absolutely central tenet for authoritarian regimes) the nature of Nazi Germany required the constant push for new foreign policy victories to keep people placated. This, in tandem with the ideological bit we disagree a bit on, is a powerful combined argument from my perspective for the global destination of Nazism taken to its end. 

Sounds an interesting talk regarding Greece. The 30 years was idea is not necessarily one I would subscribe to, but it's a powerful. Reminds me a fair bit of E.H. Carr's' '30 Years Crisis', which is considered one of the greatest ever international relations texts (with good reason, even though I disagree with it largely). With regards to the London Protocol, I haven't read enough on that to have a totally informed opinion, but on first reading it seems a touch like an attempt to create a neat, path-dependent, narrative for something that was born of many factors and turbo-charged by a ruling elite that was capricious. Notwithstanding Goebells, Hitler and a few others, the top brass of the Nazi Party were unlikely to have even heard of it (though, to be fair, that doesn't necessarily preclude them from utilising its arguments as it's passed down). It's reads to me like a far more legitimate version of when I occasionally hear people say that Nietzsche's will to power was central to Nazi ideology, when it really is a muddling of cause, effect and desperation for us to rationalise the depths of human depravity. 

Just on that talk, Pat. Did Wolff go on to tie the nation/state/people argument to Bismarck's 'Blud und boden' arguments? Be interested to know, as I think there is some points to be made there. But generally, my belief is that the legalities which underpinned Nazi Germany were only of use as to such a point when they became inconvenient to the continued expansion of the regime. 

Edited by Gus Mears
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I don't think he tied it into Blud und Boden, that I can remember, though the concepts share a lot ideologically. The lecture was concerned chiefly with using this explanation to place the Holocaust in European history (rather than as a terrifying out of nowhere "one-off"), so it was more taken up with the notion of nationalism (and how much of that is born of this triumvirate of State, Territory and People as the defining principle of a nation), and how politically a country can utilise the concept of enemies without and enemies within to justify totalitarian acts, than with the expansionist aspect of Nazi Germany.

The suggestion wasn't so much that the London Protocol was responsible, per sé - any war, or anything born of politics has a hundred causes - but that it was the first time that notion was enshrined in law. While the Nazi top brass may not have been familiar with what it said, they would have been familiar with how the concept was utilised in international relations beyond that, and particularly in the case of the Minority Treaties after WW1. The idea of national pride was, for the masses, really a relatively new concept - in the 19th century and earlier, it would not have been uncommon for many Europeans to not know what country they lived in; they would know their town or village, much more than that didn't really matter. There's a line in Peter Ackroyd's "London: A Biography", even, (though, off the top of my head, I can't remember the date, but would hazard a guess at 18th or 19th Century) that remarks on young people in London being asked if they knew where England was, and one replying that, "they had heard of England, but knew not in what part of London it could be found".

Now, would this idea of a nation being strictly defined on State/People/Territory have come about, and had the same kind of impact without the London Protocol? I think it absolutely would - the relationship between State and People would only become more central to domestic politics as nations became more democratic, and expanding media etc. meant people's worlds became larger than their own village. If there's a contentious issue it's the line drawn between People and Territory - on one hand, there's the very rational explanation, "these people live within our territory, therefore they are governed by our state", but the Nazi perversion of that was, "these are our people, therefore deserve to be governed by our state, therefore we have a claim to this territory". The Minority Treaties (theoretically) protected German minorities in, for example, Czechoslovakia, from persecution by the Czechoslovakian government, but they were underpinned by the same sense of national identity that, when turned on its head, gave Hitler the ideological underpinning to make a claim for the regions they inhabited to be brought under German rule and, eventually, to Generalplan Ost.

I think the underlying principle of State/People/Territory as the definition of a nation isn't inherently problematic - or, at the very least, it seems so self-evident to us now as to struggle to come up with any alternative definition - but it has within it the germ of ugly nationalism, whether through the demonising of the Other within (i.e., this person is not one of our People, therefore has no right to be in our Territory), or imperial designs elsewhere (our People have a claim to this land, so if we make this part of our Territory, it rightly comes under the remit of our State). Again, I think this mindset is pretty much unavoidable the moment people are expected/encouraged to identify with their nation above all else - it can be coloured with almost any political mindset, or with the concept of Divine Right, or anything else, but the essence remains. This whole paragraph is a lot of word salad, sorry.

 

I think you're probably right about further expansion being necessary to keep up the illusion of Nazi invincibility - even if just to keep up a narrative justifying the degree of control the Nazi government exacted on its people, they would have needed the prospect of an Enemy.

I think "Imperial Overreach" is where you're absolutely spot-on - the more I read about Hitler, and about Nazi Germany in general, the more I find myself shaking my head at the idea of alternative histories where they could have won if it weren't for X, Y and Z, and instead wonder how they ever managed to get as far as they did. Hitler's entire political career was characterised by overreach, and - with no disrespect to those both military and civilian who lost their lives because of him - much of World War 2 was just a series of avoidable, costly mistakes. That's before you even get into some of the madder notions he entertained and indulged - I mentioned it earlier, but Nazi expeditions to Tibet and Antarctica even before the War stink of "imperial overreach"!

 

Even, as I mentioned earlier, living in Jersey, and seeing evidence of Nazi occupation all around me - the sheer expense of occupying and fortifying the Channel Islands...and to what end? Britain never gave a solitary shit about liberating them - and that must have become clear to the Germans too, yet they kept at it (in Jersey & Guernsey, the Germans didn't surrender until the day after VE Day, and those stationed in Alderney kept it up for another week, like a really shitty version of that Japanese soldier still fighting WW2 into the '70s). Hitler was convinced in using them as the centrepiece of his Atlantic Wall, but strategically they were completely bloody useless - the Allies just bypassed them entirely en route to Normandy. Now, there's an argument to be made for the propaganda value of occupying British soil - but, like I said, Britain never gave a toss, yet it seemed like a minor obsession for Hitler.

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Feel free to tell me to get fucked, but this is similar to what I've been working on at school, so wanted to offer my (less educated) thoughts:

 

I was talking through "Why did people vote for the Nazis" with my Y11s last week, and had a long discussion about whether or not it was the idea of 'exploiting the divisions in society' to get those people to vote for Hitler individually, e.g. the workers voted for him because they wanted jobs, and he promised jobs, whereas the big businesses voted for him because he promised to protect them from the Communists, or whether or not it was the idea of a strong, united Germany, who would avenge the loss of WW1 and the humiliation of the Treaty of Versailles, and regain/expand the Lebensraum so as ordinary Germans could be proud of their country, whilst eliminating those non-Germans, foreign, Communist or Jewish, from the country to ensure it remained strong. We then also discussed if it was Hitler himself that people voted for, his ideas, or his promises. 

 

I think a lot of it goes back to the idea of a country wants strong leadership, and Germany hadn't really had any strong leadership since 1918, when the Kaiser abdicated. They had a brief flirtation with it under Stresemann, but a combination of his death, the Wall Street Crash and the Depression which followed, left a void ripe for Hitler to fill, which he did. 

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2 hours ago, Nexus said:

Feel free to tell me to get fucked, but this is similar to what I've been working on at school, so wanted to offer my (less educated) thoughts:

Absolutely not intending to do that! Apologies if the stuff I was posting was slightly up its own arse. Same with you @Kaz Hayashi get involved if you want.

I think weak leadership was a big factor when seen in tandem with the fact that it also wasn't successful leadership. The underlying weakness of the German economy and crawling increases of living standards were issues never truly dealt with. They may well have been impossible to deal with due to international constaints and successive leaders unwilling to brazenly break international obligations.

In the, at times, epically dull debate between structure and agency, I've always leaned towards agency with structural confines and I very much advocate the role of Hitler as central. Side-lining Hitler as some sort of non-human bogeyman (not what you are doing at all by the way, Nexus) is incredibly dangerous in my view. His personal magnetism and ability to bend otherwise normal people into thinking that visceral anti-Semitism and a whole compliment of rank Nazi policies should be remembered as a testament to the capability of mankind to fall very quickly. The desire for man to boycott rationality and accept easy answers to, at times, infinitely difficult problems. Doesn't take a genius to see the historical parallels there.

A frequent refrain in the early years of Nazi rule was that 'Hitler's great, but the people around him...'. after Kristellnacht, the SA purges, the initial pogroms (to name a few), this was heard by the many in the non-ideologoue majority. He was massively popular for a bunch of the reasons you alluded to, Nexus. From a personal standpoint, I think the sense of national renewal was the most important. Bunch of shit feeding into why that was the case from the instability of Weimar Germany, to Versailles, to the stab in the back myth (which I find fascinating), but all geared towards creating a Germany anew.

Pat, cheers for the additional info on that lecture and I wholeheartedly agree that the nation state would have come about in much the same manner. I think it's a case of human nature. We have an extraordinarily arrogant conception of evolution and how long it takes to change things that, until very recently, made total sense (defending those around you, being frightened of what seemed different). Considering if I was born 100 years earlier, a good lifetime in modern terms, I would probably have died during the Somme, it's remarkable the distance covered but, I do believe the hard-wiring of tribalism is still present in most and will continue to be so for a very long time (probably more than time than the human race has). While the nation state is reasonably new, the same ideas of tribal loyalty was much the same over millennia I think, just on a smaller scale. Whether that be your town, your feudal lord's estate, whatever, same shit, different gravy in many respects. One of my personal historical aphorisms is that history repeats itself with better technology, which to a reasonable extent explains my opinion on the formation of the nation state.

On Hitler's obsessions which you mentioned with regard to Jersey. I always found his adoration of colossal buildings interesting. Not exactly a surprise due to his obvious megalomania, but far more in-depth than the average dictator due to resources, aesthetic principles and his decent grasp of architecture. The aesthetics of the Third Reich is fascinating in it's own right really and ties in inexorably with the wider propaganda. Inside the Third Reich by Speer is, obviously, revisionist as hell, but the bit I found most interesting were the stories about the proposed megastructures; stadia seating half a million, a recreation of Champs Elysees on a gargantuan scale. You don't need Freud or Jung to read to deep into the links between interests and his politics there.

 

Edited by Gus Mears
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Oh no, I am not denying that Hitler was magnetic as a personality. Just look at where the German Worker's Party was before he took over, and where he took it by 1923, nevermind how he then made it more acceptable whilst still in prison and once he was released.

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From what I remember from my A Level history, Hitler was quite careful at the start of his step up a more powerful position in German politics, focusing most of his attention on the economic hardships that the country had undergone with hyper-inflation and the such like after WWI. It was only once his ideas started to gain some traction that he started to link these into his racist and xenophobic views.

What he did was actually really seamless. Certainly he did offer a considerably alternative voice to what Germans had put up with after WWI but at the same time he was an opportunist but also, for that time and place, a really effective politician who captured the mood of a hell of a lot of people in the country at that time.

Like Gus, I find the architectural and structural ideas that were proposed and, to a certain degree, constructed under the Third Reich to be really interesting as well. I love buildings and constructions that are heavily influenced by an industrial and neoclassical ideal and some of the ideas that Speer and the Ruffs especially put forward.

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Along the lines of Nazi architecture, the Grauniad had an article yesterday on "Hitler's holiday camp", Prora;

https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2017/nov/06/hitler-holiday-camp-prora-nazi-development

 

The article's a little light, but raises the question as to how one responds to history - do we keep Nazi architecture as a monument, do we make something practical of, destroy it altogether?

Again, to put this into a Jersey context, much of the island's coastal defences and infrastructure is of Nazi construction, and there are bunkers littering the coastline. While a lot of the temporary installations and weapons were removed or destroyed (mostly just thrown off cliffs) immediately after the War, the permanent structures are still there, and get spoken about as respected historical sites - but they're mostly just locked up empty shells, and were used for raves and underage drinking as far back as I can remember. There was a minor news story early this year that a couple had been vandalised and covered in graffiti, including Swastikas, which was roundly criticised as disrespectful of the island's history...but hang on, it's a Nazi bunker.

I think what I'm getting at is something similar to the debate around Confederate statues in America - one side of the argument is saying (or rather, is presented as having said) "these are racist and offensive" while the other side of the argument is, "they are part of our history, and removing them is denying our history" - but the people on that side of the argument aren't engaging with the "racist and offensive" side when they're warning of the dangers of ignorance to history, they're just putting their fingers in their ears and arguing for the status quo. What should be happening - whether it's confederate statues or Nazi architecture - is that we should be taking the opportunity to have that conversation about history, and why it matters. The thing I find distressing about swastika graffiti on Nazi bunkers, more than anything, is that even surrounded by constant reminders of Nazism, it's seen as so much of an abstract concept, so irrelevant to our daily lives (in part because of the sidelining of Hitler that @Gus Mears mentioned), that people haven't learned a damn thing from it. I doubt it was modern day Neo-Nazis painting swastikas everywhere, it was probably just kids knowing it would get a response, but you'd think proximity to the legacy of Nazism would make that transgression less appealing - but, then, we're seeing the far right rise across Europe, and even in Germany, so obviously there's something fundamentally broken there.

 

That sidelining of Hitler as a bogeyman is something that frustrates me, as much as I understand why people feel the need to do it. People feel the need to blame some occult influence, a litany of mental or physical illnesses, childhood or sexual trauma, or all of the above, to present Hitler as something unknowable, something inhuman, because then we can just look at him as a one-off, as Evil. We don't have to consider that we might have met any number of little Hitlers in our day-to-day life that would have behaved exactly the same as him under the same circumstances.

 

As for how Hitler rose to power...I think any ground I'd have covered has been brought up, but I'd just sum up a large part of it as the need for politics to have a narrative, and that's something that the right wing tend to do better than the left, and that totalitarians and those unafraid of lying and self-mythologizing for their own ends do better than anyone. People don't respond well to facts or statistics, they respond well to stories. So when Hitler et al can come along with a story of how to (ahem) Make Germany Great Again, the ability to make that story resonate with a populace that feels cheated (and, as Nexus said, the intelligence to tailor the story to the audience), and they manage to tie that into a mythic past? It's hard not to get caught up in that, and it's hard for those in opposition to argue against it - because you're left arguing the facts, when they've got the story.

It's like an old German joke from the '30s - a Jewish man is reading Der St√ľrmer, grinning from ear to ear. His friend asks him, "how can you read that nonsense? And with a smile on your face, too!". He replies, "it's simple - I read the Jewish papers, it's going terribly for us, nothing but bad news. But when I read this? We own the banks, we run the world, we're doing great!".

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3 hours ago, BomberPat said:

Along the lines of Nazi architecture, the Grauniad had an article yesterday on "Hitler's holiday camp", Prora;

https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2017/nov/06/hitler-holiday-camp-prora-nazi-development

 

The article's a little light, but raises the question as to how one responds to history - do we keep Nazi architecture as a monument, do we make something practical of, destroy it altogether?

Ok, so this is something that can rejoin the discussion with as I’ve had many passionate discussions about this particular topic.

I agree wholeheartedly with elements from both points of view (keep it or demolish).

I’m personally someone who believes in lost technologies, lost artifacts and I truly believe that elements of our very early history has been lost forever. I also believe that due to our (humans) destructive nature, the internet, books and any other recordings/artifacts are very fragile and constantly under threat. From those who either want to rewrite history, or claim ownership in order to censor. 

So an argument I recently heard regarding the US statues went along the lines of...¬†‚Äėknock it down, the history of it won‚Äôt be forgotten, it‚Äôs racist but we can always use the internet/books to remember‚ÄĚ. Whilst I understand the point, I can‚Äôt fully agree due to my concerns raised above.¬†

The memory of such structures are usually negative and apart from having a historic value for those who wish to learn (school children, students, historians), the association is filled and embroiled with hate, fascism, racism and death.

So while I don‚Äôt believe things like this should be demolished,¬†so that we can continue to learn and visualise¬†our learnings from physical structures, the question should be asked.. ‚Äúwho is currently learning from these particular structures?‚ÄĚ And also, ‚Äúwho was offended and knew of their existence prior to the article?‚ÄĚ

The following are my personal ideas about how best to use them. Not what ‚Äėshould happen‚Äô as such, but they are very public knowledge now, and I assume¬†the concept of their existence will be causing offence.

1) - Historical visitors landmark. Embrace what they are, turn them over to their equivalent of the national trust/or Historic England¬†(when they ever decide to actually create one).. and that‚Äôs probably the problem. We still have castles over here from when we were apparently ‚Äėgreat‚Äô. Some of which boast torture chambers and what not. The nazi situation feels more abhorrent because it was relatively recent. So yeah, in short, make an on-site museum.

2) - Sell them off to the highest bidders (private collectors) dig them up and ship them out. We might question why people collect nazi memorabilia, it might be weird, but they exist, so exploit the fat. All costs covered by said collectors and use that money to fund social projects in that area, attempt to rebrand the area as desirable and pleasant for future generations. Including visitors centres that discuss the significance of the area/bunkers.

I think simply knocking them down is such a waste of potential revenue that can be used for really positive causes. 

Theres actually a very interesting article here, regarding the 3 stages in which Germany has dealt with its past since the war... erase it... forget it... come to terms and learn from it. In which it discusses historical monuments and statues:

https://www.google.co.uk/amp/www.philly.com/philly/opinion/commentary/charlottesville-nazis-germany-communists-monuments-trump-20170817.html%3famphtml=y

Anyway, feel free to continue lads, great read.

Edited by Kaz Hayashi
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Personally I'm broadly in the same camp as you regarding keeping them as historical landmarks - I felt a little uncomfortable reading that Guardian piece and seeing the line about, "well, we have plenty of monuments already".

If there is a way we can preserve these places and use them to educate people, that's the ideal for me - so long as, in the process, we prevent them becoming a rallying symbol or point of pilgrimage for modern day Nazis (or insert equivalent here). As an American colleague once said to me, "it ain't blacks and liberals that go to Civil War museums", so I think you'd have to be cautious as to what exactly any museums etc. entail; particularly in the land of Museums of Creationism and whatnot.

 

Tying it into my own local history again, is that we have what's now called the "Jersey War Tunnels", having for years gone by the far less evocative name "the German Underground Hospital", or Hohlgangsanlage 8 to give it its official name, which now stands as a museum to the years of occupation. It was a series of underground tunnels to allow occupying forces to take cover, in the assumption that Britain would try and liberate the islands, and was constructed through a combination of a highly paid German workforce, local volunteers in return for extra rations (collaboration being a whole other conversation, particularly on the "what would you have done in their position?" front), and forced labour by POWs; many of whom died either of exhaustion or malnutrition. Towards the end of the war, it was converted into a hospital, and it mostly ended up torn apart and gutted by souvenir hunters after liberation.

Nowadays, as I said, it's a museum, and what I find particularly visually arresting about it, and very much in line with what we're talking about in terms of using these sites to educate, is that you're greeted with a Churchill quote as you walk in - not the one you tend to see plastered over things in Jersey, "...and our dear Channel Islands are also to be freed today", from his speech at the end of the war (for context, Liberation Day is a public holiday, and you can hardly move for things named "Liberation" this and "Churchill" that), but the earlier Churchill quote about the occupation - "let them starve".

I've always found it, if nothing else, a ballsy move to go with such a controversial quote from a figure that usually evokes hero worship, but there's something fundamentally honest about the choice that I love - this isn't a "whitewashing" of what happened, it's not saying Britain was blameless, and it's saying you might have to face up to some ugly truths. I'd like it more museums, or any kind of history "lesson", were a little more prepared to take that risk, but it tends to be criticised by Brexit-y types as "talking Britain down" or "white guilt" to suggest that we did anything wrong in the past.

 

As an aside, going back to local history and Hohlgangsanlages - there are one or two numbered tunnels that were never identified by the Allies after the war (off the top of my head, I think Ho17 was never found), so while it's hugely unlikely, there's the prospect of there still being one or two German tunnels on the island that have still never been found. Chances are they'd have caved in, or been filled in, either by the Germans or since, but there's the slightest possibility that they're just sitting in private land somewhere. Because loads of German weapons and equipment were just shoved off cliffs at the end of the war, you hear stories of divers going to particular hard to get to spots and finding them full of Nazi weapons - though anyone claiming to have done so recently I tend to take with a pinch of salt - and unexploded bombs still get discovered on the beach fairly regularly. There were more than 60 WW2 bombs discovered and safely detonated last year, including a couple two minutes away from the beach where I used to walk my dog. You'll just hear a faintly muffled explosion, like a cannon firing or a load of fireworks going off at once, and wait to hear on the news what it was.

Edited by BomberPat
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15 minutes ago, Kaz Hayashi said:

You have just blown my mind there... fucking hell.

It's astonishing, really. The full quote is even worse, it's from a written note by Churchill denying Red Cross support for the Islands in 1944 - "Let them starve. No fighting. They can rot at their leisure".

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The specific problem with museums/monuments in the South dedicated to American Civil War was that they were never designed to be warnings, they were designed to lionise many of the central figures of secession while offering a cursory, at best, glance of the hateful practice of slavery. I agree with you Pat regarding the necessity to be as honest as possible in museums, the American South following the war never really was asked to feel responsible or guilty in a normal war reparations way.

The utter failure of President Johnson to deliver the Reconstruction was central to this in my view. I'm down to needing to read biographies on (I think) 7 US Presidents and you can make a strong case for arguing that Johnson was the worst from what I know. His primary concern was welcoming secessionist states back as quickly as possible while ignoring slavery. No single person is more responsible for the system of quasi-apartheid which resulted in much of America for a century following the war, the influence of which is still a central part of understanding the American experience. 

The psychological need for people in the South to feel that it had not all been an utterly futile waste of people and time probably also played a part, especially in tandem with the relatively soft terms of Reconstruction. It makes horrible sense, but Christ, in now way, shape or form should it be alright to bang up statues of Robert E Lee, Stonewall Jackson, Jefferson Davis et al without anything on the downpour of misery which they inflicted, not only in terms of slavery, but also on the thousands of young Southern men who were killed for a cause which was not directly benefiting them (this is not in any way intended to downplay slavery, but just to outline much of the Civil War as another example of people up top sending those below to die for causes they deemed important). 

Some cool stuff regarding Jersey, Pat. The joy of history is in the nuance and when I have time, I'll probably expand on why Churchill deserves so much more attention than 'bulldog spirit' on one side and 'he was awful', which I have also read in a similarly boneheaded fashion from time to time. 

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40 minutes ago, BomberPat said:

It's astonishing, really. The full quote is even worse, it's from a written note by Churchill denying Red Cross support for the Islands in 1944 - "Let them starve. No fighting. They can rot at their leisure".

As someone whose father is from a colonial background, it's not surprising to me at all. Take away WWII, and Churchill does not come off well at all. This is a man who called Mussolini "a Roman genius" and "greatest lawgiver among men", while also declaring "Gandhi-ism and everything associated with it must be grappled with and crushed". Who allowed four million people in India to die of starvation by refusing food aid, because "if it's so bad over there, why isn't Gandhi dead yet?" Who broke up miners' strikes by authorising troops to use lethal force on the strikers. Who referred to a "Jewish problem" and a "coloured problem".

Look at Churchill's profile amongst Africans and Asians, and it can give you a very different perspective of him.

Edited by Carbomb
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18 minutes ago, Gus Mears said:

The specific problem with museums/monuments in the South dedicated to American Civil War was that they were never designed to be warnings, they were designed to lionise many of the central figures of secession while offering a cursory, at best, glance of the hateful practice of slavery. I agree with you Pat regarding the necessity to be as honest as possible in museums, the American South following the war never really was asked to feel responsible or guilty in a normal war reparations way.

Yes... a million times this.

To be frank, I believe this is the exact same issue as Britain with how colonialism is taught in schools and revered (intentionally or unintentionally) by the make Britain great again brigade.

I do not believe that we as a nation are ‚Äėsorry‚Äô for what we did yester-yesteryear. I do hot believe enough is taught or spoken about how truly fucking aweful we were. It seems to be a case of, it was so long ago, we don‚Äôt need to be, or maybe it‚Äôs because we weren‚Äôt ‚Äėat war‚Äô.

Are there any British museums that shed plenty of light on our wrong doings? I can’t say I’m aware of any. There may have been the odd exhibition, but not at national scale.

Steered that somewhat, soz.

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