Sunday, 24 May 2009

hands off my history

Back in the 70s, I used to spend a couple of evenings a week at the Air Cadets, and spent weekends learning to fly gliders. I was aiming for a career as an RAF fighter pilot. I'd read my Biggles and Worrals books, and lots more books too, and I wanted to fly Spitfires and biff the Hun. But I was willing to settle for whatever the RAF would let me jump into, and was confident, indeed hopeful, that I would be fighting the good fight, whatever.

Innocent days.

Meanwhile, in another reality, some of my contemporaries would be shaving their heads and putting on Doc Marten boots and getting swastika tattoos and going out Paki-bashing.

Time passed, and I didn't join the RAF (colour vision problems). I became a student and a bit of a lefty. I Rocked Against Racism, and wore my Anti Nazi League badge with pride. Once, when a National Front rally was held in Portsmouth, I joined in the counter demo. It seemed a disproportionate response when I saw what the rally consisted of; a small group of pimply skinheaded thugs and a couple of shabby older blokes, who looked like disreputable uncles. The thugs seemed quite pleased with the attention they'd got, what with the police cordon outnumbering them and the large jeering crowd of us lefties. They looked very uncomfortable, though, when we chanted (to the tune of Bread of Heaven) "Does your mother, does your mother, does your mother know you're here?" -I think we hit the spot there.

More time passed, and now it is today. The little thugs have become balding middle-aged men with families, and they have learned to cover up their tattoos with suits, because some people seem to respect people who wear suits.

I got a leaflet from the British National Party through the door the other day. Look, here is the front of it.

They have appropriated the Battle of Britain as part of their narrative. Explicitly, in fact. "The New Battle For Britain..." "...because we've earned the right!"

Now, I know my aeroplanes of course. This is a Mk V Spitfire, so it came in too late for the Battle of Britain. I got quite excited, though, when I saw that little chequerboard pattern on the nose.

..because it's the insignia of the Polish Air Force. This is in fact a Spitfire of 303 Squadron RAF, whose pilots had escaped from Poland and come to Britain to carry on the fight. Look, here's a Polish PZL P11 fighter, with the larger version on it. I once built a model of this aeroplane, so I remembered the insignia. And other stuff, too. Obviously, my childhood wasn't entirely wasted.

Unlike some... I was quite excited because I always suspected that homegrown nazis are bit thick, and it's so nice to see such palpable evidence.

In my version of history, the fight against Fascism was an international sort of affair, and the Germans were the Johnny-no-mates in the business. Here, for instance, is the breakdown of pilots from other countries who fought with the RAF during the Battle of Britain

Poland 145
New Zealand 127
Canada 112
Czechoslovakia 88
Australia 32
Belgium 28
South Africa 25
France 13
United States 7
Ireland 10
Jamaica 1
Palestine Mandate 1
Southern Rhodesia 1
Unknown 8

I recently read Vasily Grossman's diaries of his time as a war correspondent with the Red Army. I was struck particularly by the sense of outrage among the Russian soldiers when they advanced into Germany and saw how good the land was and how the locals seemed to have so much of everything -why, they wondered, did these people want to go out and behave so badly to other people in other places? Why didn't they just stay at home?

Anyway. I don't like nazis appropriating a history that I feel that I've got a share in. Rather more of a share than them, in fact. Enough with the cultural lebensraum, you lot. Go and appropriate the Luftwaffe instead, why don't you? -o yes; they lost, didn't they?