It’s not just fake news but the falsifying of history that’s happening under President Donald Trump. The most recent falsehood referenced a terrorist incident in Sweden which was unbeknown to the Scandinavian Government, never mind a population of 10 million. He justified himself by claiming it was based on a Fox News reports on escalating crime in that country caused by migrants.
Now Sweden is a place I know well as my eldest son lived there for two years and I visited it often. Not only is it remarkably law abiding but migrants have, on the whole, settled remarkably well. They’ve been assimilating refugees for decades now, not just over recent years. Moreover, from discussions with both the Justice Minister and other representatives I know that the major issue with serious crime comes from Russian gangs, not Muslim migrants.
But Trump’s statement was no misunderstanding or error. It was part of a deliberate attempt to manipulate news and distort history. In that, he isn’t alone. The same has been happening in this country and has reached its peak with the Brexit debate. The false claims made about refugees, from health tourism to crime and benefit fraud, fuelled resentment. As did untrue accusations that migrants were taking British citizens jobs, rather than doing work that needed done and adding to our society through their effort. All played a part in the Brexit vote; especially in poor and deprived areas.
There’s the low-level racism from demonising Germany, to vilifying Europe; everything from humming the Dambusters tune to the ludicrous claims of “taking our country back”, as if it had been invaded. Now, though, there’s also a distortion of history by the Brexiteers. Fraudulent claims, whether on money for the NHS or the history of Europe, deny the reality.
The invocation of Winston Churchill and the V for Victory signs distort what happened both in the Second World War and the establishment of the EU as it now exists. After all, Churchill even offered a Union with France to try and keep them in the war and it was Ted Heath who took us into the EEC. Both scions of the Conservative party.
I’m minded of a story an old friend told me. He was a confidante of the late Lord Beaverbrook who as well as being a press baron had served in Churchill’s wartime cabinet as Minister of Aviation; so, he was well placed to know. The cabinet minutes are sealed for years to come but snippets over the years have confirmed the likelihood of its veracity.
Beaverbrook stated that after Dunkirk, Churchill was in a minority in his cabinet in wanting to fight on. Terms of surrender had been intimated by the Nazis which were that King George VI was to abdicate and Edward VIII be restored to the throne. The Royal Navy was to be surrendered to the German fleet and in return Britain could keep its Empire.
Many, if not the majority, thought fighting on was untenable and that was as good a deal as could be got. Churchill was supported by Neville Chamberlain, who having been fooled in Munich was determined to confront the Nazis. He was also backed by Clement Attlee who seeing what was happening elsewhere in Europe could sense it would mean a right-wing Government and the death knell for the Labour Movement. The most strident of those seeking to surrender were either on the right or pillars of the aristocracy. Thankfully, Churchill was successful and the fight against fascism was maintained, though by all accounts it wasn’t easy.
But the distortion comes from the suggestion that Britain fought against Europe, when in fact it fought with it and for it. Or, that somehow Europe let us down then, as later; as opposed to helping us, then and after. The truth of the matter being that it wasn’t just the 51st Highland Division that fought on in France to allow the Dunkirk evacuation. Young French soldiers gave their lives in the knowing their own country was defeated, but to allow soldiers from another land to escape and continue the struggle.
When the Battle of Britain raged in the skies over southern England, many RAF pilots were Polish, and especially Czechoslovakian. They were, in the main, experienced pilots and combat-ready. British flyers were in many instances still in flying school and it was those Europeans who sometimes crashed and died in a foreign land.
Similarly, when the Allies landed in Normandy or Italy they included Free French and Polish Forces, not just US and Commonwealth soldiers. They fought for and sometimes even alongside Resistance and partisan forces whether in France or the Netherlands. Many of them, though by no means all, were Communist. They fought against the Vichy regime and the Dutch Nazis who had collaborated with Hitler and shamefully colluded in the holocaust for their Jewish people.
Yet, some now encourage or openly consort with the likes of Marine Le Pen or Geert Wilders. These people are the heirs of the very people young soldiers, like my father, were fighting against. Yet vitriol against European leaders who are the successors to those we fought with and for. Churchill would be astounded at their complicity. History also failed to record the huge sacrifices made by Indian and African troops whose successors are now sometimes sadly migrants or refugees.
There are many issues with the EU and I voted Remain for a social not just an economic union; tackling poverty as much as freeing up trade. But, I also know that it spared me and my children from a European war that my father and grandfather had to fight in. My father fought against fascism and for a fairer world, not to see Europe led by racists or despots.
Those coming here to work make ours a better land; as we need to work with their compatriots for a better continent.
Accuracy matters, for as the philosopher Santayana said, “those who do not learn from history are condemned to repeat it”.