Wednesday, May 06, 2020

About VE Day

This coming Friday, we are officially encouraged to mark the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II in Europe in the above manner and a number of questions present themselves. Not least is the sense that the current crisis of Covid-19 is, to an extent, being presented in explicitly martial terms, with invocations of the mythical Blitz spirit and the pretty risible notion that our current Prime Minister in some ways embodies the spirit of Churchill.

I guess there are good reasons to pretend that the current crisis has unified the nation, but it’s a pretty fragile unity. Even the Thursday night pot-banging prompts resentment from the left (who argue that increased funding to the NHS would be rather more helpful) and the right (who would far prefer the NHS to be replaced by something shinier and more profit-driven).

And of course the idea that Churchill himself is or was a genuinely unifying force is little more than a comforting myth. Which speech will be played? Not the one where he justified sending troops to quell the Tonypandy miners, nor the one where he described Gandhi as a “malignant subversive fanatic”? No, obviously it will be one of his wartime efforts; so we need to brush aside the fact that his appointment as Prime Minister was far from popular with many appeasers and Nazi sympathisers in Britain, and a couple of months after VE Day itself he was turfed out of office in a Labour landslide. Once you dig down, he is ultimately, like most of us, neither hero nor villain, just a complex mix of aptitudes and frailties. But that looks crap on the posters.

As for ‘We’ll Meet Again’, I’ve never quite bought into the notion – being peddled now as it was during the war – that it’s purely about catching up with your friends and family once the current inconvenience has ended. Surely the lyrics can bear a more melancholy interpretation, implying some sort of reunion in a loosely defined (“don’t know where, don’t know when”) afterlife? I always associate Vera Lynn’s version with the apocalyptic ending of Dr Strangelove; and in any case, my own favourite rendition is this, recorded a year or so before Cash’s death. If the mawkish, ahistorical jingoism gets too overbearing, I’ll just play this loud.

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