Sun Jun 6th, 2021 at 01:46:26 PM EST
There was a sitcom on UK TV back in the 70s called "Whatever happened to the Likely Lads". A revival of an early 60s comedy show, showing how the 2 original young men were adjusting to early middle age and their changing responsibilities.
The Theme song went;-
Frontpaged with minor edits - Bernard
Oh, what happened to you?
Whatever happened to me?
What became of the people
we used to be
Tomorrow's almost over
the day went by so fast
the only thing
we look forward to's
Today a new memorial to the dead of the Normandy invasion from WW2 will be commissioned. It's a splendid thing and I'm sure all the relatives of both the surviving and the fallen are grateful they have a place to go, remember and, probably, shed a tear. Just as the Menin Gate in Belgium commemorates those with no known grave from WW1.
Without wishing to detract from the sacrifices involved in WW2, I can't help but wonder why we have these new memorials. Alan Bennett once suggested that these big memorials were about guilt. France and Britain were global empires. They were expected to win WW1 & 2 easily (yes, really). Instead they suffered disaster after disaster. Especially in WW1. Guilt is a part of it. How else to excuse such martial incompetence ? Except to say the sacrifice was (somehow) worth it, look at the big memorial we built.
Yet, we are selective in our memorials. We mostly no longer think about the dead of the Korean War, even the waste of the Gloucester regiment (Glorious Glosters) is barely thought of today. We also tend to glibly airbrush those who died in the futile end-of-empire struggles. Possibly because they died for an unjustifiable cause (which we rightly lost). Nor are we too bothered about the dead of Ulster, ours or theirs.
However, WW2 burns brightly in English minds. The first war on film, the first mass reported war. The last justified war. The last justifiable victory, Battle of Britain, el Alamein but not Market Garden, not Norway, not Singapore, not Crete. Just the ones we make films about. Yet, it's hard to avoid concluding that these (now) selective commemorations of those who died for the victories we choose to celebrate have little or nothing to do with events in the past, but are all about the politics of now. We barely cared even 15 years ago. However the manufactured rise of right wing tabloid nationalism, this need to see ourselves victorious over everybody, requires untarnished victories. Wembley '66, The Battle of Britain, Operation Overlord.
It's a good job we have Normandy cos otherwise it'd be Waterloo or Agincourt.
In circumstances like this, I am reminded of Germany pre-WW1. As an industrial trading nation, it was super-productive. Indeed it was on the cusp of overtaking both the UK and the USA as an exporter. It was a truly rich country.
But Kaiser Wilhelm, brought up in an era of colonial exploitation, couldn't see it. And in his attempt to create a 19th century colonial empire, he destroyed the potential of 20th century Germany for 60 years. The world would have been very different if he hadn't been a fool.
And a century later, England has been no less foolish. No wars, but self-destruction nevertheless. I fear this memorial is part of the illusion created to sustain that path.
Truly, the only thing we can look forward to is the past