Apparently there’s some sort of anniversary coming up to do with a war, you may have noticed. To commemorate this the British publishing industry has launched a ferocious selling offensive, no doubt aided by recent remarks from Michael Gove, Tristram Hunt and Boris Johnson.
Like with any historical incident, our views of this conflict are more about now than then, 2014 rather than 1914, perfectly illustrated by the German Foreign Minister’s hugely helpful comment that Ukip is a threat to European peace – helpful to Ukip, that is, since the intervention of continental politicians inevitably helps euroscepticism. (Historically it makes no sense, because there are a number of reasons why 1914-1945 has not being repeated and won’t; as well as the US military and nuclear weapons, there is our demographic structure and the fact that we’ve sort of learned our lesson. Ukip, besides, come from the Little Englander tradition and is anti-intervention; to make my own ludicrous counter-factual historical comment, had Nigel Farage been in charge in 1914 we’d have stayed out of the war.)
Still, although Simon Jenkins has apologised to the Germans for our war-worship, the good news for Anglo-German relations is that all this obsessing about the First World War means that we’re at least not obsessing about the Second, and our number one national fetish, the Nazis.
I’ve been reading a marvellous book called The German Genius by Peter Watson, which starts with an analysis of how little the British know or understand German culture. Few visit the country, only 1 per cent speaks the language, and most could hardly name more than a handful of famous Germans, except for you know who.
Watson quotes several German thinkers who argue that the British obsession with Nazism is damaging to both our psychology and our relationship with one of our biggest trading partners.