The War Game

“Listen, don’t mention the war! I mentioned it once, but I think I got away with it all right. So! It’s all forgotten now, and let’s hear no more about it.” As Basil Fawlty found, as he immediately launched into: “So, that’s two egg mayonnaise, a prawn Goebbels, a Hermann Goering, and four Colditz salads”, once mentioned the war will simply not go away, especially once the coalition of the thin-skinned jumps into action.

Thus this week British Airways stopped showing a German TV mini-series that allegedly ‘slanders’ Polish WWII resistance fighters, after protests from the Polish League Against Defamation. In a letter to British Airways, the league had argued that Our Fathers, Our Mothers (Unsere Mutter, Unsere Vater) “falsified history” by portraying Poland’s official underground resistance force, the Home Army (AK) as anti-semitic. I have no idea whether they are right on the substance of their arguments but would make two points. First, I look to cinema or television drama to provide entertainment not accurate history. Second, if the British were as quick to take offence at every inaccurate portrayal of us or our history in a Hollywood production, we’d never get anything else done.

The league suggested that British Airways, “as the national carrier of Great Britain, has a special responsibility in remembering the Polish troops who fought heroically during World War II in the air, on the sea and on land, as comrades in arms of Great Britain.” Arrant nonsense: British Airways has no such responsibility. It does however have a responsibility not to pander to Ivor Grievance and his ilk but to concentrate on running a successful airline.

Back on the ground, alas, it was no different. Last week some Poles launched a demonstration outside Downing Street following an attack on a Polish cyclist in London who had been attacked in a pub car park allegedly because he had a Polish flag on his helmet. The organizers of the demonstration, the Polish Youth Association Patriae Fidelis and the Polish Bikers group, say that it was not an isolated example of discriminatory behaviour towards what they described as the “Polish minority”. Interestingly comments on a Polish language website in the UK suggested that most folk had encountered no such discrimination. Indeed there cannot be another country that is as welcoming and tolerant of foreigners than the UK, a fact testified to by immigrants from all over the world.

Be that as it may the nub of the argument was not slow coming. The protest organizers referred to David Cameron’s remarks on child benefit (see Friends with Benefits) in which they said he accused Poles of being child benefit abusers – in fact the Prime Minister said no such thing – before listing the virtues of Poles’ contribution to the UK including the now familiar: “We can‘t understand why people who have respected British law, paid our taxes, contributed to the culture, have much in common and fought alongside the British on many occasions, notably in the Battle of Britain, should now be slandered.” The war. I mentioned it once and thought I had got away with it but there it is again.

Fortunately we are not alone. Our German cousins have also been at the receiving end of the Polish need to bring up the war at every opportunity. Polish MEP Jacek Protasiewicz, who is also vice-president of the European parliament, arrived drunk at Frankfurt airport on a flight from Warsaw. When challenged by a German customs official while passing through border control on Tuesday he is reported to have shouted “Heil Hitler!” and “Have you ever been to Auschwitz?”

Since Poland benefits greatly from EU largesse, to which the largest net contributors are Germany and the United Kingdom, perhaps we should set up an Anglo-German anti-grievance league. On the hand, why bother? We don’t have to play the war game (although Angela Merkel was kind enough yesterday in London to acknowledge our contribution). History has been kinder to us and we may smile indulgently knowing that we do not need to play the victim card at every turn.

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