World war two

Ian Buruma: Collaborators

49 min listen

My guest in this week’s Book Club podcast is the writer and editor Ian Buruma, to talk about his new book Collaborators: Three Stories of Deception and Survival in World War Two. A Chinese princess who climbed into bed with Japanese nationalist gangsters; an observant Jew who sold his co-religionists to the Nazis; and Himmler’s personal masseur. Ian describes how their stories link and resonate, and how murky morality gets in a time where truth loses its meaning altogether.

Putin’s cult of war

This idolisation of the Soviet military is Russia’s modern tragedy. Not least because it is crucial to Putin’s way of controlling the country. Russians are prodded to believe in a golden thread linking the achievements of an unsullied Red Army with what their soldiers are perpetrating in Ukraine today. This is why it was entirely to be expected that at today’s Victory Day parade Putin again couched his so-called ‘special military operation’ in terms of a fight against ‘Nazis’. It’s also why the Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, has compared Ukraine’s Jewish president to Hitler. And why the hi-tech killing equipment trundling across Red Square this morning was led by

The rise and fall of the yakuza

For the first time in history, an organised crime ‘yakuza’ boss has been sentenced to death in a Japanese court. Satoru Nomura, head of the Kudo-kai group in Fukuoka, was found guilty of murder and three assaults after a trial held without a jury due to fears of possible intimidation. If a planned appeal fails, he will be hanged. We’ll find out about it after it happens. What makes the case remarkable is that no evidence was presented linking Nomura directly with the crimes he was accused of. The judge nonetheless concluded that they took place on his orders and had the confidence to deliver the ultimate sentence. The case marks

How crises shape government

Crises often exhaust the capacity of governments to renew themselves. All consuming problems do not allow prime ministers to have what Walter Bagehot called ‘mind in reserve’ — and yet future success at the polls depends on it. The vast achievements of the postwar Labour government were largely built on the work of a Liberal in the form of the 1942 Beveridge Report, which most notably recommended a National Health Service. But Attlee was unable to create a new vision of his own during an era of crippling rationing and economic strife. Labour went from winning their first overall majority in 1945 to a very slim majority in 1950. Churchill’s Conservatives

Why teaching the Holocaust still matters

Pretzsch is a normal small town on the River Elbe, 35 miles north east of Leipzig, with little or nothing to suggest its dark past. Eighty years ago, in the spring of 1941, it became a mustering point for a cadre of men who would perform ‘special tasks’ during the forthcoming Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union. Over the spring and early summer months, around 3,000 men arrived in Pretzsch. Quartered in SS accommodation, the men eventually learnt they would be part of four Einsatzgruppen — special task forces — who were to move behind the German front line. Their task was framed as maintaining security and eliminating resistance. By the

The big state won’t save our post-Covid world

The big state is back. The Budget puts Britain on a path to having the highest tax levels since the 1950s, and a state that controls as much of our GDP as it did in the days when it still owned carmakers, phone lines and travel agents. Despite Rishi Sunak’s best efforts to contain spending, the figures are likely to go higher still, as the bills for the NHS, social care, and disrupted education continue to rise. But it’s not just about the numbers. Even before the pandemic, the political winds were blowing towards larger government, with Boris Johnson embracing a more muscular, state-led industrial strategy. But the pandemic has

Why face masks weren’t compulsory during WW2

Britain has been here before when it comes to furores about face masks. Exactly 80 years ago the same argument was raging, with the country split between those who wanted the wearing of gas masks to be made compulsory on pain of financial penalty, and those who maintained it should be an individual choice. Unlike today’s virus, the threat facing the country in the summer of 1940 was a destructive Nazi war machine that in a matter of months had torn through most of western Europe. Britain was next in Hitler’s sights and an aerial gas attack was what the government feared most. In 1938 Neville Chamberlain’s government, aided by

The return of the deep shelter mentality

Seven weeks confined to a city apartment changes a man. Trees, for example, have never been a particular passion of mine but recently I’ve spent many happy moments studying the plane tree outside my bedroom window, and in particular the magpies’ nest therein. On Saturday a baby magpie emerged from the nest and edged tentatively along a branch. There it stayed for several minutes until it retreated to the security of its nest. On Sunday, the Observer reported that a similar nervousness now afflicts the British. According to the paper, fewer than one in five of the public believe the time is right to end the lockdown. Britain is not

Will Japan ban its ‘offensive’ Rising Sun flag at the Tokyo Olympics?

Ant and Dec have done most things in their long careers in light entertainment. But the versatile duo broke new ground last week when they infringed on international diplomacy by wearing Japanese Rising Sun flags on their headbands in a skit with singer Anne-Marie. The use of allegedly offensive WW2 era imagery forced programme makers to edit the sequence for future broadcast. ITV and Anne-Marie were obliged to make hasty apologies. But is the Rising Sun really offensive? And is anyone really offended? The flag is of ancient origin, but it has been associated with the Japanese military since 1870, it is still the emblem of the Self Defense Force