In the 1994 ‘Itchy & Scratchy Land’ episode of The Simpsons, Homer and Marge visit T.G.I. McScratchy’s Goodtime Fooddrinkery, where it’s constantly New Year’s Eve. “It must be wonderful to ring in the New Year over and over, and over,” Marge says to a glum looking waiter, as a live band plays Auld Lang Syne for the umpteenth time. “Please, kill me,” he replies.
Living in Britain is starting to feel as desperate as being trapped inside T.G.I. McScratchy’s. Only instead of endlessly celebrating New Year, we’re constantly reliving the Second World War. A war we won – not that you would actually know it, given our inability to properly move on from the conflict in the intervening 75 years. If anything it’s been something of an encumbrance to our nation’s progress. Always looking back, never forward.
Leavers in particular seem obsessed with wartime nostalgia, which was on full cringeworthy display during ‘Brexit Day’. A leaflet for The Great Escape event at Plymouth Hoe prominently featured images of a Spitfire, a hood ornament of Winston Churchill’s head nestled in the crotch of a victory ‘V’, and also chief of the Special Operations Executive, Geri Halliwell, dressed in a Union flag dress. Meanwhile, patrons of the Rising Sun pub in Kettering joined hands for a rendition of Vera Lynn’s ‘We’ll Meet Again’ (back at the pub same time the following evening, presumably). One Brexit supporter even tweeted his #BrexitDay lunch, which appeared to consist of raw pheasant breast and three bottles of…wait for it: SPITFIRE! It clearly wasn’t a day for knocking back a few pints of Messerschmitt and demolishing a plate of schnitzel.
At the Brexit Celebration in Parliament Square, Nigel Farage addressed the crowd, saying: “The war is over. We have won!”. Because framing Brexit in the context of a great war, in which our little island fought valiantly to escape the wretched clutches of a continental aggressor, is the most effective way of firing up nationalists frothing at the mouth with wartime fever.
At one point during the celebrations in London, Leavers were filmed stomping an EU flag into the mud, as though frenziedly celebrating their liberation from a brutal oppressor. Shamefully someone even allowed their children to take part in this disrespectful and completely unnecessary act of desecration. One old lady set fire to an EU flag, angrily referring to the European Union as “the Fourth Reich”.
What are these people so incensed about? Prior to the 2016 referendum the EU was like the sound of the ocean inside a conch shell: ever present, but neither visible nor resonant – until, that is, the shell was raised to our ears. Very few of these people will have given the EU a single thought for at least the first 43 years of Britain’s membership, but now they’re jumping all over the European flag. It must be the first time in history that an apparent ‘enemy’ has wrought such misery on the population by investing billions of pounds a year into the country, from the Shetland Islands to the Isles of Scilly. Those evil bastards!
But for me, the nadir of the last three and a half years (in a crowded field of nadirs) was when Leave.EU tweeted a picture of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, with the words: “We didn’t win two world wars to be pushed around by a Kraut.” After causing widespread offence with that image they then doubled down on their xenophobia by tweeting a picture of Winston Churchill sticking two fingers up, with the words: “Two World Wars and One World Cup!”.
Leaving aside Germany’s four World Cups, where is it written in the Paris Peace Treaties that an Allied power, when bereft of intelligent argument and reasoned discourse, can inanely dribble on about the war? It’s often said that veterans of the World Wars rarely ever spoke about it, yet plenty of boomers who’ve spent the odd Bank Holiday watching The Longest Day and Where Eagles Dare – perhaps also bravely serving in a World War II weekend reenactment group – never fucking shut up about it.
Of course, Leave.EU knows full well that messages like that, shameful as they are, play well with their base. Especially football supporters, where lazy tabloid ‘journalists’ have, for years, bombarded them with hackneyed stereotypes and Second World War references whenever England and Germany have played each other on the international stage. I’ve often thought that the German national team should just give British tabloids the sporting war they crave and replace their back four with a row of Bouncing Betties.
You would think that two of the 20th century’s greatest adversaries coming together under the European Union’s ideals of unity, solidarity and harmony would be the greatest story of the last 100 years. But we squandered the opportunity to really come together and move forward, preferring instead to make the war a cheap punchline, or a nonsense sporting headline, or something that we hark back to whenever we need to wrap ourselves up in that sense of greatness we have lost.
The World Wars should always serve as dark lessons from history, and the bravery and sacrifice should be remembered and commemorated for all time. But we need to stop invoking the war at the drop of a hat, or sound of a recorded gong. Especially when the side milking the Second World War for all it’s worth – the so-called patriots – are lining up alongside members of the far right, many of whom are so unable to control their Nazi-saluting tics that it feels like they’re afflicted with a sort of Third Reich Tourette’s.
So let’s try and move past the war. And let’s take it back from the people using it to whip up patriotic support for an act of national self-harm. The two don’t belong together.