80 Years – celebrate or commemorate?

destruction of Warsaw

We all delight in medieval history – it is so quaint and so distant. But there are historical events closer in space and time which must not be forgotten.

80 years since World War 2 started. Should we celebrate the 80 years of global peace, or should we commemorate the outbreak of the all-out war that cost us 80 million dead, the barbarity of the Holocaust, famine, disease, the homelessness and displacement of millions, the obliteration of cities and industries that would take decades to rebuild, and finally the crisis of civilisation as we knew it?

It’s great to celebrate – never say no to a good party. Remembering is a bit harder because it requires drawing analogies and avoiding repeating the same mistakes.

WW2 started ten years after the Great Depression of 1929 caused by corporate greed and bankers but blamed by populist politicians on Jews and the Others. Those scapegoats became the casualties, but ultimately they were not the only ones. Everyone was a casualty. One cannot control war – who lives and who dies becomes a game of Russian roulette. There are five bullets for every six slots in the magazine – you know the odds.

It is now just over ten years after the 2008 Financial Crisis. It was caused by corporate greed and bankers but is being blamed by populist politicians on foreigners, refugees and yes, you guessed it – the Others. Those who don’t speak your language, look different and aren’t related to you are being dehumanised so they become dispensable.

WW2 was cooked up by those in power who wished to change the world order in their favour – to divide and to rule it on their terms. They didn’t like the League of Nations created to guard peace after WW1 and they certainly didn’t like the terms of the Treaty of Versailles. They had better ideas of dividing the world on their own terms: The Thousand Year Third Reich or the ever-growing Union of Communist Republics – and nothing else. Nazi Germany and the USSR put their heads together and signed the Molotov-Ribbetrop Pact of Non-Aggression just seven days before the outbreak of WW2 so that each could do their own thing – their worst – and get away with it. (Luckily for us, Hitler lost his marbles and reneged on that treaty when he attacked Soviet Union in 1941. But imagine if they had both stuck to it – the rest of the world would have stood no chance. There would be no Victory Day celebrations and no Remembrance Day every year -not for us.)

Today again two powers have risen and are led by two demented dictators who seem to have found a common ground – their new common understanding of divide-and-rule. And after a few cosy tête-à-têtes they now have a friendly pact of non-aggression between them, allowing each other to do what they please in their own backyards. The rest of us are pawns. Most of us support them because we believe them. Their hatred of peace organisations, such as the UN or the EU, is well explained to us. Those institutions haven’t been elected to power based on lies and false propaganda! They are the enemy! And why would we need them if we have NATO? Except that NATO is for the times of war (which we really, really don’t want) and UN or EU are to guard peace (which they really, really don’t want). The existing peace and world order doesn’t suit Mr Trump and Mr Putin. Time to change it.

The wheel of history is turning and the same mistakes are being repeated. Democratic institutions are being compromised, prejudice is rampantly bred in the streets and people’s minds and values are being corrupted. I think this is the time to remember. There is nothing to celebrate.