While making the film Sea of Sand in 1958, the fictional story of a group of British soldiers fighting in North Africa during the Second World War, actor Michael Craig turned to director Guy Green and said: ‘I think it’s pathetic. Here we are more than ten years after the war has finished and we are still making pictures about it. Why aren’t we making pictures about what’s happening now?’
It’s easy to smile at Craig’s apparent naivety. More than six decades after the war finished, we are making pictures, novels, comics, computer games, headlines and comments about it on a scale far greater than 1958.
The last four years alone have seen a flood of successful British films about the conflict, including The Reader, Age of Heroes, The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas and Defiance, with at least three more currently in production. American films Inglourious Basterds and Valkyrie were also box office successes in Britain.
Wikipedia lists twenty-four wars in which Britain has fought since 1945. What is it about that one that fascinates us?
Is it, as some people suggest, a case of gazing fondly through rose-tinted binoculars at a time of national unity and superior morality, a time when Britain rose with honour to fight and defeat the “beastly Hun”?
Is it a way of inflating our sense of national grandeur by offering Nazified Germany as a negative foil?
Is it a means of usefully ignoring those atrocities in our own nation’s history which would rapidly puncture that sense of grandeur if inspected too closely?
Or is it a harmless obsession with a piece of ancient history between two nations who are now close allies?
Whatever the reason (and I’d welcome your comments…), can it be right that a ten-year-old German boy is subjected to taunts of ‘Nazi, Nazi’ in his English school playground by kids who don’t understand the word’s significance? For despite knowing that the Nazis were German and beaten by the British, many young people in Britain today are ignorant of the “details” – 80% don’t know what Auschwitz was about.
There are some great war films and novels out there, don’t get me wrong. But perhaps, when laughing at a clever pun in an advert for Spitfire beer or killing Germans in an early Call of Duty, it’s good to think twice about why we’re enjoying ourselves.
The events of that war should never be forgotten, but let’s not confuse hackneyed references to Hitler and ‘zee Germans’ with ‘remembering’.