Recently I was surfing on You Tube and found two short documentary films both made in 1946. One is British and the other is American, same topic, same story but completely different approach. The British one is highly moralistic and full of condescension, preachy and negative. The American one is Bon Enfant in tone that American way of being optimistic and full of yes we can do this and all will be well now, no worries folks, we are here to make friends and build the future. I often long for that America which appears to have vanished.
Of course the two documentaries are about Germany 1946, the war is over, the Nazi regime defeated, its leadership dead or in jail. Now it is time for re-construction and with that post war view of all is possible. The American want to bring prosperity to the defeated nation, it shows us a German family, father, mother and two kids. Father works in a factory, responsible fellow, mom the good housewife and the kids happy. The nightmare of the Nazi dictatorship which lasted 12 years is over. The narrator even inserts German words into the dialogue so the viewer can see that the former enemy is now just a simply guy wanting to get on with life. The family has a meal together, father smokes a pipe, kids do homework and their home is simple but clean. For all you know this could be an American family. The American documentary is somewhat naive, you think of innocents abroad as Mark Twain use to say.
Contrast this with the British documentary, it is full of reproach against that awful people who inflicted two world wars on the World in the space of 20 years. Forgetting that the First World War was about Europe including the British sleepwalking into a conflict that could have been averted. The narrator then goes on to mention the Franco-Prussian War of 1870 as further proof of the perfidious Germans. Forgetting to tell us that Queen Victoria, the most German of British Monarchs cheered Bismarck on that one and only changed her tune when her Ministers told her the public could not understand her pro-German sentiment.
The British documentary shows you a lot of devastated German cities, people walking about aimlessly, stunned by the defeat and the catastrophe they brought on themselves. The narrator says “What are we to do with these people” “should we let them starve”, ” Kill them all”. All rhetorical questions of course, the narrator goes on to say it is our duty to reform them and educated them so they can set aside their terrible ideas. He also brings in Christian principals and values, all is presented as a burden for the civilized British people. Redemption of the German people will come through atonement for sins, the narrator then goes on to name German Industrialists like Krupp who made money from the war, comical really, as if no one in Britain ever made a huge profit from the war. Everyone must be punished! Emphatically states the narrator almost in hysterical tones.
Looking at it I thought, well here we go again, same nonsense from the British and the French we saw in 1919 which lead directly to hardship and the rise of Nazism. Luckily this time the new Super Power America is there to set the tone and by 1948 Britain will be pushed to the margins as the Empire crumbles, same fate awaits the French and their colonial empire.
You certainly do not see in the British documentary any spirit of Internationalism, it is still about revenge and the old European rivalries. The documentary in itself speaks to a British audience, holding fast certain beliefs about the enemy, which cannot be revisited or re-interpreted. In Canada we also bought into the British interpretation of the war and to this day presentation follows orthodox lines. The Americans being a new Super Power can be magnanimous, they have no past sins.
The British documentary forgets to mention that the war could not be won by Britain alone, all the Commonwealth countries and Canada came to the rescue. Britain was almost defeated by Germany during the Battle of Britain. They also forget to mention that Edward VIII and Ms Simpson’s were Nazi sympathizers and if Britain fell they would have been happy to help Herr Hitler, sanitize Britain and get rid of Churchill and brother George VI. Unclassified documents today show what had long been suspected but never mentioned publicly.
I just found those two documentaries fascinating and indicative of the post-war period.
This British exclusionary spirit still exist today, the latest is the Brexit vote on 23 June, will Britain leave the European Union over some imagined fantasy of not being able to control their own destiny? As if Britain today could go at it alone, what of all the British citizens now living, working for years in other EU countries, out of the EU means they go home to the Sceptre Isle which would certainly created an economic crisis of large proportions. Again it is this idea that people have to play by our rules and Britain is not open to working with others unless it can dictate the terms.
General DeGaulle back in 1969 said that Britain should not be allowed to enter into the Common Market as the EU was then called. He could foresee problems because of British attitudes. In Europe the rivalries die hard, sad really.