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World War II and Holocaust
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Daily Telegraph (UK) Monday, June 7, 1999
Way of the World
REMEMBERING THE WAR by Auberon Waugh
SURVEYS of "young people" in this country nearly always provide distressing information and we should not be surprised by the latest survey of 15- to 30-year-olds, conducted for a video company, which reveals more or less total ignorance about the last war. Six out of 10 young people approached did not even know its dates and three out of 10 could not get close by guessing. Four out of 10 were not aware that Winston Churchill was prime minister at the time. Even more impressive, 12 per cent of the 450 young people interviewed did not know which side had won.
What makes these fairly predictable figures worthy of comment is the remark by a spokesman for the Department for Education who said schools and teachers were not to blame: "The Second World War is a compulsory part of the national curriculum for 11- to 14-year olds, and has been since 1991," he explained. This statement, if true, tells us more about current standards of teaching than the earlier discovery taught us about young people's lack of curiosity. An even more widelyheld error is suggested by the British Legion spokesman who commented: "Such a level of ignorance is very disappointing. It is vital for children to be well-versed in their nation's victories over dictators."
We did not go to war because Hitler and Mussolini were dictators. That was fortuitous, and in any case both enjoyed democratic support. Nor did we go to war, as nine out of 10 Britons seem to believe, through any moral or high-principled reaction to Hitler's persecution of the Jews. We went to war because we felt threatened by Germany's take-over of Czechoslovakia and Poland.
Although Hitler's anti-Semitism was abundantly clear by the autumn of 1939, the real persecution, in the sense of mass extermination or holocaust, did not start until nearly four years later, in 1943 - nor could it conceivably have occurred except in the circumstances of war. Far from being fought to prevent or punish the holocaust, the Second World War effectively caused it. I mention these unwelcome facts only because the myth that we went to war for moral reasons - and to rid the world of ethnic cleansing - now encourages twerpish young would-be Winston Churchills like Tony Blair to indulge their power fantasies at our expense. The lesson we must all learn from Blair's disastrous interference in Yugoslav affairs is that the money British taxpayers pay on defence is designed to defend ourselves and our essential interests against anyone who threatens them.
> Nato may or may not have outlived its usefulness, but its purpose was never to impose decent standards of behaviour on the rest of the world. That sort of thing must be left to the Americans.