I was in South America last week, so had time for a bit of plane reading whilst flying over the Pacific.
A really good read is Holger Eckhertz’ collection of interviews with German soldiers who fought on 6th June 1944: D DAY Through German Eyes.
One of the recurrent themes was the resentment that was apparently common among these German soldiers of the English. Not, surprisingly, for frying them to a crisp (often quite literally, with flame throwers and phosphorus bombs). They seemed to think that was fair enough. But because they felt that they had gone to good deal of trouble achieving – as they saw it – a United Europe, and just when they were busy fighting off the common enemy (the Russians) the English – instead of being good Europeans – were stabbing them in the back. This phrase – a United Europe – cropped up again and again.
Equally recurrent was their perception that the vast majority of the French among whom they had been living in Normandy were entirely on side with them (the Germans) and the Anglo-Saxon invasion by British, US and Canadian troops was violently unwelcome to the French. There were a few exceptions among the French, of course, but these were apparently regarded as rogue terrorists by most of the French and all of the Germans. After the war, of course, these “United Europe” Frenchmen sang a very different tune, and so these contemporaneous accounts from the German troops at the time strike a surprising note to modern ears.
You need to read both volumes of this work – most of the really interesting stuff is in the 2nd volume.
I also read Boris Johnson’s The Churchill Factor: How One Man Made History. Unlike some more turgid accounts, this is a bit of a romp. Boris is obviously a great fan, and sees himself in some sense as following in the Churchill tradition. That is OK, at any rate for someone as smart as Boris, and the book is an easy and fun ride, with a bit of critique and quite a bit of sheer revelling in a tradition of political backbone that is all too rare these days. In the acknowlements, he thanks one David Cameron for doing some devilling for him by way of research.
It was written before Boris’ recent observations in the context of the Brexit referendum. But the Eckhertz interviews suggest that Boris, like Churchill for so much of his life, is not only anomalous among the establishment, but bang on the money. The reality is that with the noble exceptions of the Dutch and the Greeks, most of the present EU countries are now putting in place the United Europe that they wanted and which was stolen from them by the Anglo-Saxon invasion of Europe on 1944. Not the same flavour of course – no one would suggest that the EU is now following the same political path as the Nazis ¾ of a century ago – but in terms of the concept that there is a widespread appetite for a united Europe in which Anglo-Saxons do not naturally fit.
Churchill, by the way, was clear. He wanted a united Europe, but one in which Great Britain stood as a friend, not as a member.