Remember The War?
Furries; their part in Hitler's downfall
‘SNP Justice Secretary Keith Brown, shared details of a “counter-protest” against an event in Glasgow on Sunday, which is being held by the gender critical Let Women Speak group’ reports The Telegraph. This, the most recent instalment of the trans debate, caused me think again about something I’d written last year, on British over-reliance on references to the Second World War.
The post in question included a poster for the group ‘Furries Against Fascism’, (three words I never thought I would write in an even remotely serious context). This poster linked the organiser of the ‘Let Women Speak’ event, Kellie Jay Keen, to endorsements of Hitler
Making links between their opposition and Nazis is a practice that seems prevalent on this side of the debate. Owen Jones, who now describes himself as ‘anti-fascist’ in his Twitter bio, tweets that the ‘gender-critical’ side is allying itself to fascists as well.*
However, the use of Nazi references isn’t absent on the other side of the debate either, with Laurence Fox sparking controversy by posting four pride flags arranged to make a swastika.
In fact, unsubtle references to the War, Nazis or Hitler is far from being limited to trans activism; ‘I’m not suggesting he’s as bad as Hitler’ said AN Wilson when discussing Prince Harry’s book Spare on Times Radio, ‘but it is like reading Mein Kampf, in that Hitler thinks he's a great hero and you put the book down with absolute disgust. And you do put this book down with total disgust.’
Meanwhile Conservative MP Andrew Bridgen was suspended from the party for a tweet that compared immunisation to the Nazi’s programme of genocide; ‘As one consultant cardiologist said to me this is the biggest crime against humanity since the holocaust.’
It’s even prevalent in football; John Barnes did a sterling job shilling for Qatar during the World Cup by offering the full Ken Livingstone for his FIFA pay packet, accusing visiting British fans of ‘bullying’ Qatar, claiming they ‘wouldn't dare do the same’ to Hitler or at the Berlin Olympics.
Why do all these different debates reference the Second World War so readily, even where there are better examples?
If Bridgen wanted to talk about mass institutionalised medical disasters, for example, surely the Thalidomide scandal would have been a more pertinent reference? If Barnes wanted to outline the unfairness of criticism levelled at Qatar during the World Cup the previous one was held in authoritarian Russia, which didn’t receive anything like as much criticism. AN Wilson could have found similar emotional wallowing from a man with a martyr complex in any of Richard Nixon’s autobiographies.
Even if you don’t believe the fundamental arguments behind them, wouldn’t these have been better, more relevant examples to support what Barnes, Bridgen and Wilson are trying to say?
Sadly, no; these disparate examples show how far British discourse has been captured by what I’ve previously labelled the ‘War Mythology’.
Even as the Second World War disappears over the horizon of living memory, the War remains the furnace in which our national identity was forged; our national debate finds it easiest to frame an issue by drawing on our collective cultural remembrance of the War.
The nature of the War meant that the political implications of its memory would always be unique. Narratively, it is a simply understood concept – a heroic start, a clear turning point in the middle and an utterly decisive ending. Britons understand it as ‘a good war’, deo et victricibus armis, waged for unimpeachable moral reasons. The horrors of Nazism are the defining moral event of our modern age, to which revulsion is universal. Other definitions of evil necessitate context, and, if they aren’t well-known, become diminished through explanation. The commonality of abhorrence to the results of Nazism, however, has given us what Alec Byrie describes in Protestantism as ‘an all but universally accepted definition of evil, a fixed point on our moral compass.’
The Nazis were such a perfect evil that the ‘War Mythology’ creates a black-and-white sense of good and evil that plays in perfectly to the all-or-nothing nature of modern debate. Nazism or references to Hitler have become ubiquitous in public discourse on all manner of subjects, but this isn’t a mark of quality. Reflexively comparing an opponent to the Nazis is obvious, straightforward and (usually) the hallmark of a poor argument. Sophists use the War Mythology to establish the guilt of their opposition by the mere accusation. That Godwin’s Law came into existence with the internet is no coincidence - the increase in quantity of arguments seems to have done nothing to increase their quality. Godwin’s Law was created to show that no matter the subject, Hitler would eventually be mentioned, because humans on the internet are more predictable than they are clever.
The War Mythology is perfectly designed to castigate compromise too. Neville Chamberlain’s policy of appeasement is regularly trotted out as a stick with which to beat those who suggest moderation. The War Mythology leaves no room for nuance in our public debate, but this is rather the point. The extent of the understanding, of the conversation, is limited to them BAD, we GOOD. Between the black and white we lose the nuance of the human condition; but to paraphrase the philosopher Slavoj Žižek and his reflections on Stalinism, ‘the horror of Nazism is not that bad people do bad things – they always do. It’s that good people do horrible things thinking they are doing something great.’
Such extraordinary efforts of power and courage as those required to win the War will always command the attention of posterity. It is no wonder that our collective remembrance is captivated by the national sacrifice needed to perform a task to which the nation was unequal, or that we would wish to bathe in the lambency of perhaps history’s most noble act. But for Britons, our inability to escape its gravitational pull or to stop comparing ourselves to the moral Übermensch of ‘the Greatest Generation’ is a cage. Britain’s rich history and, indeed, the lessons of the Second World War, can offer many answers to the challenges Britain will face in the future. But the simplified, Bigglesworthian nature of our War Mythology offers people a black-and-white lens to present today’s debates. By the overuse of the comparison, bandying Nazi or facist has become so vague as to mean ‘anything I personally believe to be bad’, rather than what it actually is; an abject moral horror upon which all are agreed.
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*I think it’s important to go into every argument with a good heart and in good faith. Jones doesn’t just call people he doesn’t like Nazis and things he doesn’t like fascism - see below.