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Sue Carroll's column: Mention the war.

A FUNNY thing happened as I walked round the shops yesterday. No one talked about the war.

As I drove my Mercedes down the road, I was not bombarded with cans of paint for possessing a German vehicle.

The bloke in the delicatessen where I picked up my sauerkraut and bratwurst wasn't abusive, and the delivery man who brought two crates of Becks beer couldn't have been more charming.

This is astounding, is it not, for a country that, according to German Culture Minister Michael Naumann, is obsessed with the Second World War and which has "decided to make it a sort of spiritual core of its national self"?

Well, amazingly, Herr Naumann, Dunkirk does not dominate our daily banter, nor does the Battle of Britain.

Yes, we watch war films (which often do nothing but discredit our competence). Occasionally we throw the odd verbal missile in the name of politics or football, and sure we snigger at Basil Fawlty's gritted-teeth protest, ''Don't mention the war''.

If this is an orgiastic feeding frenzy on the spoils of war, Herr Naumann, tough.

Because it's nothing, nothing at all, in comparison to the greatest favour we've granted Germany... our forgiveness.

The Second World War cost us our cities, our people, our strength. We fought and won an economically and psychologically testing battle to maintain the standards of the civilised world.

We emerged wrecked and angry. But, to our credit, we were able to put it behind us and start again.

Given that, I view Naumann's remarks as rich indeed.

Our remembrance of the war is far from a national "obsession" but an intense pride in the British spirit that made us stand up for what we believed in and cherished.

Sadly, Foreign Secretary Robin Cook, in a statement which seems designed to add injury to insult, readily gives an undertaking that he will not in any speeches refer to the war.

What a pathetic example of Euro sycophancy from the paltry pygmy. How dare he deny our past and dismiss history?

If the sensitivity of one German loose cannon means more to him than the feelings and passions of his own nation he has even less heart than I imagined (which isn't saying much).

Once a year, with the rest of Britain, I'm proud to buy my poppy and remember those who gave their tomorrows for my today.

Every dark and dreary November 11th, as old and stooped soldiers lay their wreaths, I feel humbled because I have never had to suffer, as they have, the loss, deprivation and humiliation of war.

I am acutely aware that I can go home and celebrate the freedom I've come to enjoy, with such luxuries as a bottle of wine, a good meal, the company of friends, my own home.

For all this I am asked to do nothing but pay an annual tribute to the men, not so lucky as my dad, who never came home.

There are other stark reminders. Today, 12 jurors will stand in the sub- zero temperatures of Belarus, in Poland, to witness the scene of the mass murder of Jews at the hands of the Nazis and local police.

Of course, Naumann protests that Germany's post-war generation did and do not not think as the preceding one did. Doubtless this is true.

But they cannot eradicate a shameful and appalling past any more than I can brush under the carpet the suffering, pain and bravery of my preceding generation.

Nor can I employ jingoistic tactics about the Second World War.

There were more tragedies than triumphs.

My father lost seven years of his life as a boy soldier who came back from Burma a sick and disillusioned man. He will never get those years back and I often feel intensely bitter on his behalf.

But he, like so many men, afforded me the chance to thrive. I am grateful and proud of him and of my country.

Mr Naumann's subversive attempts to portray my patriotism and pride as something less worthy remind me of a brand of fascism the world can do without.
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Copyright 1999 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Features
Author:Carroll, Sue
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Feb 17, 1999
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