Sunday, 15 May 2016

Godwin's Downfall - Boris Johnson, Or The Historian Who Should Know Better

There is in social media a term called "Godwin's Law", which asserts that anyone with a tenuous or false observation to make on the internet will eventualy invoke Adolf Hitler.

We've had two former London Mayors cite the Austrian Corporal in the last two weeks:

Labour's Ken Livingstone ended up suspended by the party after extrapolating from an arrangement permitted by the German Fuhrer to let Jews leaving Nazi Germany in late 1933 go to Palestine as meaning Hitler endorsed the Zionist belief in a Jewish State. While the Havaara accord is undeniably historical (if short lived), the claimed Zionist intentions of the author of the virulently anti-Semitic Mein Kampf were rather more dubious.

And now, this weekend, Ken's successor, Boris Johnson, less than a week after leaving office, has derided the European Union as being akin to Hitler's Nazi project to conquer Europe. In a lazy attack, the Brexit leader compared the EU bureaucracy to the Napoleonic and Nazi wars of conquest, indulging in cheap rhetoric and ignoring key aspects of history which he is more than well acquainted with.

For Johnson is a historian and is more than aware that the genesis of the European Union was one of ensuring peace and reconstruction after the end of the devastating Second World War. Winston Churchill, Britain's wartime Prime Minister, called in 1946 for a United States of Europe to ensure the reconstruction of the European family - whether he wanted Britain to be part of it or not is open to debate, but it makes the EU hardly the pursuit of a Nazi dream as Johnson has so crassly claimed. Indeed, most of the founders of the EU were people who had actively resisted Hitler and Mussolini or been persecuted and imprisoned by them, the like of which Mr Johnson has had the historically unusual good fortune never to have experienced. Several of the eleven so-called Founding Fathers were resistance fighters, while others were arrested and one fled Nazi-occupied France concealed in the false bottom of a truck.

So it is a travesty of the truth for Johnson to compare the European project with the dictatorships of the jackbooted militarists - all the more so as it is the Nazis' own spiritual heirs in the growing neo-fascist and far right movements who are keenest of all to destroy the European Union.

If Britain leaves, the likes of Le Pen and the AfD will see that as the first of many dominoes to fall until the whole Union is undone and we return to dozens of nation states peering suspiciously at each other over reinforced borders. If this is what Johnson wants from his call for British voters to be "heroes of Europe" (like something out of a bad 1960s war movie), he should know better.

For as a historian, Johnson will also be more than aware that we have never before now had over 70 years without a large-scale war on the European Continent. To be sure, there have been bloody localised conflicts in former Yugoslavia and in Ukraine and parts of the Caucasus (all outside of the EU), but for the first time in history there has been no major war blighting our previously blood-soaked part of the world. Go back, as Mr Johnson curiously does, to the glorious days of authoritarian Imperial Rome, which he does for some reason seem to laud as a "golden age", and not only under that Empire but in every subsequent century you can find not one or two but dozens of large scale military conflicts between European states. That is until 1945, and the new emphasis on a Europe that shares its future rather than fights over it.

Has the EU realised that future?

The simple answer is No, of course not. The EU is beholden to big business interests. It is not sufficiently democratic and in some respects, especially in the Eurozone which Britain is not part of, it is over-centralised and obsessed with austerity economics (like our own Government). But that is a case for staying in and making it change; it is not a case for deriding it as the realisation of a one-balled bloodthirsty narcissist's dream and walking away to do deals with these nice democrats in Beijing and shake hands with President Trump.

On so many issues - tackling climate change, taming big multinational corporations, keeping the social and political peace on our fractured Continent - a democratised EU is essential. Leaving it won't somehow magic an alternative into being. We need to campaign, argue, push for change. And if in the meantime we argue ceaselessly with other Europeans, well, equally we will work with many others too, and in any case, surely shouting is better than shooting?

Mr Johnson, as changeable as his spliced-at-conception twin Trump, should take his tawdry careerism elsewhere and leave history alone.

Nexit Nightmare : Premier Johnson and President Trump?

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