full transcript

From the Ted Talk by Keith Lowe: Why we need to stop obsessing over World War II

Unscramble the Blue Letters

Hello everybody. Audience: Hello. Keith Lowe: Fantastic! This is like a schoolroom or something. (Laughter) My name is Keith Lowe. I am an historian of the Second World War and its aftermath, and even I have to adimt that I've ceohsn a pretty crowded felid to study. I went into my local bookshop recently, and this is what I saw. Thousands of bokos about the Second World War are phusbiled every year, and, actually, to tell you the tturh, this is only a very tiny selection of what's on offer. We in the West, and, actually, increasingly peolpe in other parts of the world too, we are just a little bit obsessed by the Second World War. We have whole TV stations which seem devoted to it. We write books about it, we wtrie novels about it, we make films about it. We have university courses which are devoted to the Second World War. Whole museums are built to house World War II collections. Even our piocnliatis like to get in on this act. Whenever there is an important anniversary of the war, they tend to gather and commemorate it, and make speeches. So, for example, at the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings, June 2014, 17 heads of satte took time out of their schedules to come and spend the day on the Normandy beaches. Seventeen! This included people like Barack Obama, Vladimir pitun, the chancellor of Germany, Angela Merkel, and so on. From my own country, we sent not only our Prime Minister, but also Queen Elisabeth II, who is - I mean, she is now in her nineties and llegray retired from public life. What other international event can do all this? Even international summits slrugtge to get so many world leaders into one pclae at the same time. My question is: Why? What is it that all these world leaders, in fact what is it that all of us, think it is that we're reibernemmg? Why are we all so obesssed by the the Second World War? You might think that somebody like me would be pretty pleased with this situation. As long as the World War II industry is booming, I am always going to have a job, right? But actually there is something about it that I find really a little bit disturbing, and I don't know whether that is just because I have an irenenht distrust of a lot of politicians, or whether it's because I've been tanierd to always qisetuon everything. But it strikes me that a lot of the rireothc that gets thrown around about the Second World War, particularly by people like politicians and journalists and diplomats and so on, a lot of it doesn't seem to be about the Second World War at all; it seems to be about something else. I'm not sure if I've exactly put my finger on preislecy what that thing is, but it seems to be something like a way of fostering ninaatol pride, or just trying to get people to feel good about themselves. Along the way, it seems to me that the Second World War has been turned into a little bit of a cartoon, where everybody knows who the good guys were, and everybody knows who the bad guys were. There is pcueiros little space left anymore for any of that difficult grey area in between. To give you some kind of an idea about what on etarh it is I am going on about, let me tell you a story from my own country, from Britain. In Britain, we like to think we are the real heroes of the Second World War. We tell stories about how we stood alone against the Nazis, about how we endured the bombing of the Blitz; how we kept calm and carried on, and eventually fought our way back into Europe and liberated it. We still call the Second World War "Our fensit Hour", as if it is some kind of golden age in our history. So whenever there is any kind of anniversary, or important event based around the Second World War, we Brits really go for it. One of these enevts happened quite recently, in the summer of 2012, when we opened up a brand new war memorial right in the middle of central London. It was a memorial to the men of Bomber Command, the men who flew the peanls over Germany, dpeprod bombs and so on. This is what it looks like. As you can see, it's not exactly a shy and retiring piece of athicurcerte, it's actually quite huge. It's by far the lrsaget war memorial that we have in London, and I can tell you there are a lot of war memorials in London. As you walk into this thing, there is an inscription which tells you that it's dedicated to the 55,000 men of Bomber coanmmd who lost their levis during World War II. Now, when this first opened, in the summer of 2012, I went along to have a look, see what I thought of it, have a walk around. There is something really quite minovg about it actually. You step in through these great big pillars, and, up on the wall, you can see cevrad into the stone, there is a quotation from wointsn Churchill saying exactly how much we owe to these men who lost their lives. Parts of the miaemorl are built out of an actual World War II aircraft that was shot down during the war. So they put a lot of thought into this. It's actually really quite iirspnnig. So as I was walking around this monument, I couldn't help but feel this real surge of pdire. I felt proud of these men who had given their lives for something that I hold dear. I felt proud of my country, I felt proud of the British way of life which had puoecdrd heroes like this. And yet, there was this little voice in the back of my head which just wouldn't go away because I know that 55,000 men of bebmor Command died during World War II, but I also know that 500,000 Germans died beneath the bombs that these men dropped. A lot of those Germans were Nazis, and I dare say that a lot of them probably deeevsrd it. But the vast majority of these people were just ordinary men, women and children, just like you and me. Are any of these people at all mentioned on this memorial? Of course they are not. If you would suggest such a thing in the summer of 2012, you probably would have been lynched. The gmaerns were our enemies during the Second World War. You can't mention the Germans on a briitsh national monument. And yet not to mnetion them, to pretend that somehow this didn't happen, or even worse, that somehow it doesn't matter, that too makes me feel a little bit uncomfortable. Okay, the Germans are a difficult problem, so let's just put them to one side for a minute, and let's think instead about the other nationalities. And here is where the story starts getting interesting. Because if there is one thing that we birts always forget about the bomber war, it's the fact that we didn't only bomb Germany. More than a third of British and American bombs dropped on Europe during the war were dropped not on Germany but on those coutnires we were supposed to be liberating. As a consequence, 50,000 French civilians were killed by our bombs. 10,000 Dutch civilians were killed by our bboms. Are any of these people mentioned on this memorial? Of course they're not. And it was while I was thinking about that particular gorup, that it finally deawnd on me - actually something I probably should have realized right from the satrt - which is that molrmieas like this aren't designed to tell the whole story; they are only designed to tell those ptars of the story that make British people feel good about themselves. That's all very well and good, but it does come at a cost. And I couldn't help thinking when I was walking around this thing: This was the summer of 2012, this was the summer when the Olympic Games was coming to London. So at exactly the mmenot when the entire world was arriving in our city, the msgaese that we were advertising was that we will remember our wartime dead, but we won't remember yours. It's like the exact opposite of the Olympic spirit. It's not only the British who do this, of course it's not. Every nation does it, the Americans, for example. The Americans like to call their wartime veterans "the greatest generation that any society has ever produced", as if they have some kind of monopoly on hsoerim or something. (Laughter) They backed it up with a thousand Hollywood meovis full of square-jawed American heroes dfetneiag evil in the name of truth and freedom. The Chinese are the same. You know that in 2013 alone, Chinese TV companies produced over 200 TV dramatizations about the Second World War, each of them telling almost an identical story. Only, of course, this time, it's the Japanese who are all the evil monsters, and the csenhie who are all sleslfes heroes. And, of course, I could say the same thing about the French or the Koreans or the Norwegians or the Greeks. We all do this. We all like to think that we were the heores. We all like to think that we were the victims. But what we don't like to remember is those grey areas. And it's that which I find most uncomfortable about this, because, as far as I am concerned, it's the grey areas that make history iiteersnntg. In a sense, all good history is about the grey areas. But a lot of people don't seem to have time for complicated stories. They don't have time for diulicfft and uncomfortable emotions. In fact, I'm quickly conimg to the conclusion that a lot of people don't really have time for hrsoity at all. What they really want is a myth. Now, you might ask yourselves: What does any of this matter? I mean, we all like a good story, don't we? If that sroty makes us feel good about ourselves, then so much the better. It's all in the past anyway, so what does it matter? But that's just the problem, isn't it? Because it's not all in the past. And there is a dark side to all of these stories and myths that can be really dnaiagmg. When the former yovgusilaa tore itself apart in the 1990s, it did so with World War II sgons on its lips, and World War II atrocities in its heart. When the Ukraine csiris bkore out in 2014, Ukrainians and Russians accused one another of antcig like nizas. And then, of course, Hillary Clinton weighed in and stetard comparing Vladimir Putin to Hitler. These sorts of comparisons don't do anything to foster rtaoianl debate. If you were in an argument with someone, the last thing that is going to calm things down is that you start accusing them of being a Nazi. If you don't believe me, next time you're in an aumerngt with your wife or your husband, give it a try and see what kind of reaction you get. (Laughter) I can see some of you seem to have tried it. (Laughter) My point is that as soon as we start bringing the Second World War into any of our arguments, we get so sort of carried away with our own national mhtys that all we actually end up doing is stirring things back up again. Let me give you a couple of examples. Take this economic crisis which has rocked the world since 2008. Here we are in antehs, and you all know about the economic crisis. All across Southern Europe, people have been suffering a real austerity, and largely this has been imposed by the European Union. But it's not always the European Union that gets the blame for this. Quite often, as the largest and most pfueorwl country in the uinon, it's geanrmy that gets the blame. Now, how has this been portrayed in the press? Have we had a calm, rational economic detbae about it? This is the way that the Italian press prreatoyd the situation in 2012: "Quarto Reich." (lhuetagr) "The Fourth Reich." This is the Italian way of saying that modern-day Germany is no better than the Nazis, as if there is a direct link between World War II and today. And take a look at that picture. They've managed to dig something out that makes it look like Angela Merkel is making a Nazi salute. (Laughter) How about the Greek psres? (Laughter) How have the Greeks portrayed it? Well, here is a geerk newspaper. (Laughter) from the same year, 2012, and you will notice a photograph of Angela Merkel once again, this time in a Nazi uniform. Obviously, it has been photoshopped. But what about that headline in red? "Memorandum macht frei." This is a direct reference to the motto that was written above the gates of the concentration cpmas in places like Auschwitz and dahacu. The implication here is that the whole of Greece is going to become like one giant German concentration camp as a cunqcosneee of the eoncmioc deal they've had to do. Now, this is the sort of thing that makes an haiotisrn like me want to just give up and go and become a window cleaner or something. (Laughter) I mean, it's historical nonsense. None of these hedlaeins have anything to do with the Second World War at all. They are about a modern-day problem, a modern situation. The only reason to mention the Second World War is to provoke an emotional rpnoesse. If I have one message that I want you to take away with you today, it is this: Whenever you hear a politician, or a jronsualit, or a diplomat, mention the Second World War, I want alarm bells to ring. Because when public figures speak about the Second wrold War, they are not talking about what actually happened, they're invoking a myth. So whenever you hear a politician mention the war, I want you to ask yourselves what it is he is really trying to do. Is he trying to inspire you? - In which case that is relatively harmless. Or is he trying to fill you with fear? Is he trying to draw people together? In which case, again, that is relatively hamserls. Or is he really trying to drive people apart? And above all, I want you to remind yourselves, and to remind everybody you know, that the Second World War is over. (Laughter) We live in a different world, with different values and different problems. These problems will never be solved, and they certainly will never be solved peacefully, if all we can think to do is to resurrect the Second World War. You know, history is a messy business, particularly the history of the Second World War. It's not there to make us feel good about ourselves; it's often ugly and unbloamctrfoe, and dpaselerety complicated. It's full of those grey areas. If we could all just lrean to accept that, then this world, our world, would be a much more peaceful place. Thank you. (Applause)

Open Cloze

Hello everybody. Audience: Hello. Keith Lowe: Fantastic! This is like a schoolroom or something. (Laughter) My name is Keith Lowe. I am an historian of the Second World War and its aftermath, and even I have to _____ that I've ______ a pretty crowded _____ to study. I went into my local bookshop recently, and this is what I saw. Thousands of _____ about the Second World War are _________ every year, and, actually, to tell you the _____, this is only a very tiny selection of what's on offer. We in the West, and, actually, increasingly ______ in other parts of the world too, we are just a little bit obsessed by the Second World War. We have whole TV stations which seem devoted to it. We write books about it, we _____ novels about it, we make films about it. We have university courses which are devoted to the Second World War. Whole museums are built to house World War II collections. Even our ___________ like to get in on this act. Whenever there is an important anniversary of the war, they tend to gather and commemorate it, and make speeches. So, for example, at the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings, June 2014, 17 heads of _____ took time out of their schedules to come and spend the day on the Normandy beaches. Seventeen! This included people like Barack Obama, Vladimir _____, the chancellor of Germany, Angela Merkel, and so on. From my own country, we sent not only our Prime Minister, but also Queen Elisabeth II, who is - I mean, she is now in her nineties and _______ retired from public life. What other international event can do all this? Even international summits ________ to get so many world leaders into one _____ at the same time. My question is: Why? What is it that all these world leaders, in fact what is it that all of us, think it is that we're ___________? Why are we all so ________ by the the Second World War? You might think that somebody like me would be pretty pleased with this situation. As long as the World War II industry is booming, I am always going to have a job, right? But actually there is something about it that I find really a little bit disturbing, and I don't know whether that is just because I have an ________ distrust of a lot of politicians, or whether it's because I've been _______ to always ________ everything. But it strikes me that a lot of the ________ that gets thrown around about the Second World War, particularly by people like politicians and journalists and diplomats and so on, a lot of it doesn't seem to be about the Second World War at all; it seems to be about something else. I'm not sure if I've exactly put my finger on _________ what that thing is, but it seems to be something like a way of fostering ________ pride, or just trying to get people to feel good about themselves. Along the way, it seems to me that the Second World War has been turned into a little bit of a cartoon, where everybody knows who the good guys were, and everybody knows who the bad guys were. There is ________ little space left anymore for any of that difficult grey area in between. To give you some kind of an idea about what on _____ it is I am going on about, let me tell you a story from my own country, from Britain. In Britain, we like to think we are the real heroes of the Second World War. We tell stories about how we stood alone against the Nazis, about how we endured the bombing of the Blitz; how we kept calm and carried on, and eventually fought our way back into Europe and liberated it. We still call the Second World War "Our ______ Hour", as if it is some kind of golden age in our history. So whenever there is any kind of anniversary, or important event based around the Second World War, we Brits really go for it. One of these ______ happened quite recently, in the summer of 2012, when we opened up a brand new war memorial right in the middle of central London. It was a memorial to the men of Bomber Command, the men who flew the ______ over Germany, _______ bombs and so on. This is what it looks like. As you can see, it's not exactly a shy and retiring piece of ____________, it's actually quite huge. It's by far the _______ war memorial that we have in London, and I can tell you there are a lot of war memorials in London. As you walk into this thing, there is an inscription which tells you that it's dedicated to the 55,000 men of Bomber _______ who lost their _____ during World War II. Now, when this first opened, in the summer of 2012, I went along to have a look, see what I thought of it, have a walk around. There is something really quite ______ about it actually. You step in through these great big pillars, and, up on the wall, you can see ______ into the stone, there is a quotation from _______ Churchill saying exactly how much we owe to these men who lost their lives. Parts of the ________ are built out of an actual World War II aircraft that was shot down during the war. So they put a lot of thought into this. It's actually really quite _________. So as I was walking around this monument, I couldn't help but feel this real surge of _____. I felt proud of these men who had given their lives for something that I hold dear. I felt proud of my country, I felt proud of the British way of life which had ________ heroes like this. And yet, there was this little voice in the back of my head which just wouldn't go away because I know that 55,000 men of ______ Command died during World War II, but I also know that 500,000 Germans died beneath the bombs that these men dropped. A lot of those Germans were Nazis, and I dare say that a lot of them probably ________ it. But the vast majority of these people were just ordinary men, women and children, just like you and me. Are any of these people at all mentioned on this memorial? Of course they are not. If you would suggest such a thing in the summer of 2012, you probably would have been lynched. The _______ were our enemies during the Second World War. You can't mention the Germans on a _______ national monument. And yet not to _______ them, to pretend that somehow this didn't happen, or even worse, that somehow it doesn't matter, that too makes me feel a little bit uncomfortable. Okay, the Germans are a difficult problem, so let's just put them to one side for a minute, and let's think instead about the other nationalities. And here is where the story starts getting interesting. Because if there is one thing that we _____ always forget about the bomber war, it's the fact that we didn't only bomb Germany. More than a third of British and American bombs dropped on Europe during the war were dropped not on Germany but on those _________ we were supposed to be liberating. As a consequence, 50,000 French civilians were killed by our bombs. 10,000 Dutch civilians were killed by our _____. Are any of these people mentioned on this memorial? Of course they're not. And it was while I was thinking about that particular _____, that it finally ______ on me - actually something I probably should have realized right from the _____ - which is that _________ like this aren't designed to tell the whole story; they are only designed to tell those _____ of the story that make British people feel good about themselves. That's all very well and good, but it does come at a cost. And I couldn't help thinking when I was walking around this thing: This was the summer of 2012, this was the summer when the Olympic Games was coming to London. So at exactly the ______ when the entire world was arriving in our city, the _______ that we were advertising was that we will remember our wartime dead, but we won't remember yours. It's like the exact opposite of the Olympic spirit. It's not only the British who do this, of course it's not. Every nation does it, the Americans, for example. The Americans like to call their wartime veterans "the greatest generation that any society has ever produced", as if they have some kind of monopoly on _______ or something. (Laughter) They backed it up with a thousand Hollywood ______ full of square-jawed American heroes _________ evil in the name of truth and freedom. The Chinese are the same. You know that in 2013 alone, Chinese TV companies produced over 200 TV dramatizations about the Second World War, each of them telling almost an identical story. Only, of course, this time, it's the Japanese who are all the evil monsters, and the _______ who are all ________ heroes. And, of course, I could say the same thing about the French or the Koreans or the Norwegians or the Greeks. We all do this. We all like to think that we were the ______. We all like to think that we were the victims. But what we don't like to remember is those grey areas. And it's that which I find most uncomfortable about this, because, as far as I am concerned, it's the grey areas that make history ___________. In a sense, all good history is about the grey areas. But a lot of people don't seem to have time for complicated stories. They don't have time for _________ and uncomfortable emotions. In fact, I'm quickly ______ to the conclusion that a lot of people don't really have time for _______ at all. What they really want is a myth. Now, you might ask yourselves: What does any of this matter? I mean, we all like a good story, don't we? If that _____ makes us feel good about ourselves, then so much the better. It's all in the past anyway, so what does it matter? But that's just the problem, isn't it? Because it's not all in the past. And there is a dark side to all of these stories and myths that can be really ________. When the former __________ tore itself apart in the 1990s, it did so with World War II _____ on its lips, and World War II atrocities in its heart. When the Ukraine ______ _____ out in 2014, Ukrainians and Russians accused one another of ______ like _____. And then, of course, Hillary Clinton weighed in and _______ comparing Vladimir Putin to Hitler. These sorts of comparisons don't do anything to foster ________ debate. If you were in an argument with someone, the last thing that is going to calm things down is that you start accusing them of being a Nazi. If you don't believe me, next time you're in an ________ with your wife or your husband, give it a try and see what kind of reaction you get. (Laughter) I can see some of you seem to have tried it. (Laughter) My point is that as soon as we start bringing the Second World War into any of our arguments, we get so sort of carried away with our own national _____ that all we actually end up doing is stirring things back up again. Let me give you a couple of examples. Take this economic crisis which has rocked the world since 2008. Here we are in ______, and you all know about the economic crisis. All across Southern Europe, people have been suffering a real austerity, and largely this has been imposed by the European Union. But it's not always the European Union that gets the blame for this. Quite often, as the largest and most ________ country in the _____, it's _______ that gets the blame. Now, how has this been portrayed in the press? Have we had a calm, rational economic ______ about it? This is the way that the Italian press _________ the situation in 2012: "Quarto Reich." (________) "The Fourth Reich." This is the Italian way of saying that modern-day Germany is no better than the Nazis, as if there is a direct link between World War II and today. And take a look at that picture. They've managed to dig something out that makes it look like Angela Merkel is making a Nazi salute. (Laughter) How about the Greek _____? (Laughter) How have the Greeks portrayed it? Well, here is a _____ newspaper. (Laughter) from the same year, 2012, and you will notice a photograph of Angela Merkel once again, this time in a Nazi uniform. Obviously, it has been photoshopped. But what about that headline in red? "Memorandum macht frei." This is a direct reference to the motto that was written above the gates of the concentration _____ in places like Auschwitz and ______. The implication here is that the whole of Greece is going to become like one giant German concentration camp as a ___________ of the ________ deal they've had to do. Now, this is the sort of thing that makes an _________ like me want to just give up and go and become a window cleaner or something. (Laughter) I mean, it's historical nonsense. None of these _________ have anything to do with the Second World War at all. They are about a modern-day problem, a modern situation. The only reason to mention the Second World War is to provoke an emotional ________. If I have one message that I want you to take away with you today, it is this: Whenever you hear a politician, or a __________, or a diplomat, mention the Second World War, I want alarm bells to ring. Because when public figures speak about the Second _____ War, they are not talking about what actually happened, they're invoking a myth. So whenever you hear a politician mention the war, I want you to ask yourselves what it is he is really trying to do. Is he trying to inspire you? - In which case that is relatively harmless. Or is he trying to fill you with fear? Is he trying to draw people together? In which case, again, that is relatively ________. Or is he really trying to drive people apart? And above all, I want you to remind yourselves, and to remind everybody you know, that the Second World War is over. (Laughter) We live in a different world, with different values and different problems. These problems will never be solved, and they certainly will never be solved peacefully, if all we can think to do is to resurrect the Second World War. You know, history is a messy business, particularly the history of the Second World War. It's not there to make us feel good about ourselves; it's often ugly and _____________, and ___________ complicated. It's full of those grey areas. If we could all just _____ to accept that, then this world, our world, would be a much more peaceful place. Thank you. (Applause)

Solution

  1. truth
  2. interesting
  3. heroes
  4. headlines
  5. inherent
  6. story
  7. moving
  8. crisis
  9. state
  10. argument
  11. coming
  12. largely
  13. germany
  14. heroism
  15. acting
  16. selfless
  17. british
  18. camps
  19. obsessed
  20. published
  21. architecture
  22. moment
  23. start
  24. inspiring
  25. germans
  26. mention
  27. events
  28. chosen
  29. broke
  30. winston
  31. memorial
  32. desperately
  33. struggle
  34. remembering
  35. field
  36. national
  37. defeating
  38. deserved
  39. greek
  40. politicians
  41. putin
  42. precisely
  43. response
  44. consequence
  45. write
  46. difficult
  47. bomber
  48. world
  49. trained
  50. history
  51. songs
  52. learn
  53. finest
  54. pride
  55. chinese
  56. rhetoric
  57. dropped
  58. countries
  59. portrayed
  60. message
  61. journalist
  62. myths
  63. books
  64. precious
  65. laughter
  66. admit
  67. historian
  68. earth
  69. union
  70. economic
  71. planes
  72. largest
  73. debate
  74. uncomfortable
  75. yugoslavia
  76. dawned
  77. question
  78. brits
  79. group
  80. lives
  81. dachau
  82. athens
  83. started
  84. powerful
  85. movies
  86. parts
  87. memorials
  88. command
  89. produced
  90. people
  91. place
  92. press
  93. rational
  94. harmless
  95. damaging
  96. bombs
  97. carved
  98. nazis

Original Text

Hello everybody. Audience: Hello. Keith Lowe: Fantastic! This is like a schoolroom or something. (Laughter) My name is Keith Lowe. I am an historian of the Second World War and its aftermath, and even I have to admit that I've chosen a pretty crowded field to study. I went into my local bookshop recently, and this is what I saw. Thousands of books about the Second World War are published every year, and, actually, to tell you the truth, this is only a very tiny selection of what's on offer. We in the West, and, actually, increasingly people in other parts of the world too, we are just a little bit obsessed by the Second World War. We have whole TV stations which seem devoted to it. We write books about it, we write novels about it, we make films about it. We have university courses which are devoted to the Second World War. Whole museums are built to house World War II collections. Even our politicians like to get in on this act. Whenever there is an important anniversary of the war, they tend to gather and commemorate it, and make speeches. So, for example, at the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings, June 2014, 17 heads of state took time out of their schedules to come and spend the day on the Normandy beaches. Seventeen! This included people like Barack Obama, Vladimir Putin, the chancellor of Germany, Angela Merkel, and so on. From my own country, we sent not only our Prime Minister, but also Queen Elisabeth II, who is - I mean, she is now in her nineties and largely retired from public life. What other international event can do all this? Even international summits struggle to get so many world leaders into one place at the same time. My question is: Why? What is it that all these world leaders, in fact what is it that all of us, think it is that we're remembering? Why are we all so obsessed by the the Second World War? You might think that somebody like me would be pretty pleased with this situation. As long as the World War II industry is booming, I am always going to have a job, right? But actually there is something about it that I find really a little bit disturbing, and I don't know whether that is just because I have an inherent distrust of a lot of politicians, or whether it's because I've been trained to always question everything. But it strikes me that a lot of the rhetoric that gets thrown around about the Second World War, particularly by people like politicians and journalists and diplomats and so on, a lot of it doesn't seem to be about the Second World War at all; it seems to be about something else. I'm not sure if I've exactly put my finger on precisely what that thing is, but it seems to be something like a way of fostering national pride, or just trying to get people to feel good about themselves. Along the way, it seems to me that the Second World War has been turned into a little bit of a cartoon, where everybody knows who the good guys were, and everybody knows who the bad guys were. There is precious little space left anymore for any of that difficult grey area in between. To give you some kind of an idea about what on earth it is I am going on about, let me tell you a story from my own country, from Britain. In Britain, we like to think we are the real heroes of the Second World War. We tell stories about how we stood alone against the Nazis, about how we endured the bombing of the Blitz; how we kept calm and carried on, and eventually fought our way back into Europe and liberated it. We still call the Second World War "Our Finest Hour", as if it is some kind of golden age in our history. So whenever there is any kind of anniversary, or important event based around the Second World War, we Brits really go for it. One of these events happened quite recently, in the summer of 2012, when we opened up a brand new war memorial right in the middle of central London. It was a memorial to the men of Bomber Command, the men who flew the planes over Germany, dropped bombs and so on. This is what it looks like. As you can see, it's not exactly a shy and retiring piece of architecture, it's actually quite huge. It's by far the largest war memorial that we have in London, and I can tell you there are a lot of war memorials in London. As you walk into this thing, there is an inscription which tells you that it's dedicated to the 55,000 men of Bomber Command who lost their lives during World War II. Now, when this first opened, in the summer of 2012, I went along to have a look, see what I thought of it, have a walk around. There is something really quite moving about it actually. You step in through these great big pillars, and, up on the wall, you can see carved into the stone, there is a quotation from Winston Churchill saying exactly how much we owe to these men who lost their lives. Parts of the memorial are built out of an actual World War II aircraft that was shot down during the war. So they put a lot of thought into this. It's actually really quite inspiring. So as I was walking around this monument, I couldn't help but feel this real surge of pride. I felt proud of these men who had given their lives for something that I hold dear. I felt proud of my country, I felt proud of the British way of life which had produced heroes like this. And yet, there was this little voice in the back of my head which just wouldn't go away because I know that 55,000 men of Bomber Command died during World War II, but I also know that 500,000 Germans died beneath the bombs that these men dropped. A lot of those Germans were Nazis, and I dare say that a lot of them probably deserved it. But the vast majority of these people were just ordinary men, women and children, just like you and me. Are any of these people at all mentioned on this memorial? Of course they are not. If you would suggest such a thing in the summer of 2012, you probably would have been lynched. The Germans were our enemies during the Second World War. You can't mention the Germans on a British national monument. And yet not to mention them, to pretend that somehow this didn't happen, or even worse, that somehow it doesn't matter, that too makes me feel a little bit uncomfortable. Okay, the Germans are a difficult problem, so let's just put them to one side for a minute, and let's think instead about the other nationalities. And here is where the story starts getting interesting. Because if there is one thing that we Brits always forget about the bomber war, it's the fact that we didn't only bomb Germany. More than a third of British and American bombs dropped on Europe during the war were dropped not on Germany but on those countries we were supposed to be liberating. As a consequence, 50,000 French civilians were killed by our bombs. 10,000 Dutch civilians were killed by our bombs. Are any of these people mentioned on this memorial? Of course they're not. And it was while I was thinking about that particular group, that it finally dawned on me - actually something I probably should have realized right from the start - which is that memorials like this aren't designed to tell the whole story; they are only designed to tell those parts of the story that make British people feel good about themselves. That's all very well and good, but it does come at a cost. And I couldn't help thinking when I was walking around this thing: This was the summer of 2012, this was the summer when the Olympic Games was coming to London. So at exactly the moment when the entire world was arriving in our city, the message that we were advertising was that we will remember our wartime dead, but we won't remember yours. It's like the exact opposite of the Olympic spirit. It's not only the British who do this, of course it's not. Every nation does it, the Americans, for example. The Americans like to call their wartime veterans "the greatest generation that any society has ever produced", as if they have some kind of monopoly on heroism or something. (Laughter) They backed it up with a thousand Hollywood movies full of square-jawed American heroes defeating evil in the name of truth and freedom. The Chinese are the same. You know that in 2013 alone, Chinese TV companies produced over 200 TV dramatizations about the Second World War, each of them telling almost an identical story. Only, of course, this time, it's the Japanese who are all the evil monsters, and the Chinese who are all selfless heroes. And, of course, I could say the same thing about the French or the Koreans or the Norwegians or the Greeks. We all do this. We all like to think that we were the heroes. We all like to think that we were the victims. But what we don't like to remember is those grey areas. And it's that which I find most uncomfortable about this, because, as far as I am concerned, it's the grey areas that make history interesting. In a sense, all good history is about the grey areas. But a lot of people don't seem to have time for complicated stories. They don't have time for difficult and uncomfortable emotions. In fact, I'm quickly coming to the conclusion that a lot of people don't really have time for history at all. What they really want is a myth. Now, you might ask yourselves: What does any of this matter? I mean, we all like a good story, don't we? If that story makes us feel good about ourselves, then so much the better. It's all in the past anyway, so what does it matter? But that's just the problem, isn't it? Because it's not all in the past. And there is a dark side to all of these stories and myths that can be really damaging. When the former Yugoslavia tore itself apart in the 1990s, it did so with World War II songs on its lips, and World War II atrocities in its heart. When the Ukraine crisis broke out in 2014, Ukrainians and Russians accused one another of acting like Nazis. And then, of course, Hillary Clinton weighed in and started comparing Vladimir Putin to Hitler. These sorts of comparisons don't do anything to foster rational debate. If you were in an argument with someone, the last thing that is going to calm things down is that you start accusing them of being a Nazi. If you don't believe me, next time you're in an argument with your wife or your husband, give it a try and see what kind of reaction you get. (Laughter) I can see some of you seem to have tried it. (Laughter) My point is that as soon as we start bringing the Second World War into any of our arguments, we get so sort of carried away with our own national myths that all we actually end up doing is stirring things back up again. Let me give you a couple of examples. Take this economic crisis which has rocked the world since 2008. Here we are in Athens, and you all know about the economic crisis. All across Southern Europe, people have been suffering a real austerity, and largely this has been imposed by the European Union. But it's not always the European Union that gets the blame for this. Quite often, as the largest and most powerful country in the union, it's Germany that gets the blame. Now, how has this been portrayed in the press? Have we had a calm, rational economic debate about it? This is the way that the Italian press portrayed the situation in 2012: "Quarto Reich." (Laughter) "The Fourth Reich." This is the Italian way of saying that modern-day Germany is no better than the Nazis, as if there is a direct link between World War II and today. And take a look at that picture. They've managed to dig something out that makes it look like Angela Merkel is making a Nazi salute. (Laughter) How about the Greek press? (Laughter) How have the Greeks portrayed it? Well, here is a Greek newspaper. (Laughter) from the same year, 2012, and you will notice a photograph of Angela Merkel once again, this time in a Nazi uniform. Obviously, it has been photoshopped. But what about that headline in red? "Memorandum macht frei." This is a direct reference to the motto that was written above the gates of the concentration camps in places like Auschwitz and Dachau. The implication here is that the whole of Greece is going to become like one giant German concentration camp as a consequence of the economic deal they've had to do. Now, this is the sort of thing that makes an historian like me want to just give up and go and become a window cleaner or something. (Laughter) I mean, it's historical nonsense. None of these headlines have anything to do with the Second World War at all. They are about a modern-day problem, a modern situation. The only reason to mention the Second World War is to provoke an emotional response. If I have one message that I want you to take away with you today, it is this: Whenever you hear a politician, or a journalist, or a diplomat, mention the Second World War, I want alarm bells to ring. Because when public figures speak about the Second World War, they are not talking about what actually happened, they're invoking a myth. So whenever you hear a politician mention the war, I want you to ask yourselves what it is he is really trying to do. Is he trying to inspire you? - In which case that is relatively harmless. Or is he trying to fill you with fear? Is he trying to draw people together? In which case, again, that is relatively harmless. Or is he really trying to drive people apart? And above all, I want you to remind yourselves, and to remind everybody you know, that the Second World War is over. (Laughter) We live in a different world, with different values and different problems. These problems will never be solved, and they certainly will never be solved peacefully, if all we can think to do is to resurrect the Second World War. You know, history is a messy business, particularly the history of the Second World War. It's not there to make us feel good about ourselves; it's often ugly and uncomfortable, and desperately complicated. It's full of those grey areas. If we could all just learn to accept that, then this world, our world, would be a much more peaceful place. Thank you. (Applause)

Frequently Occurring Word Combinations

ngrams of length 2

collocation frequency
world war 23
war ii 7
feel good 4
grey areas 4
felt proud 3
war memorial 2
bomber command 2
economic crisis 2
european union 2
angela merkel 2

ngrams of length 3

collocation frequency
world war ii 7

Important Words

  1. accept
  2. accused
  3. accusing
  4. act
  5. acting
  6. actual
  7. admit
  8. advertising
  9. aftermath
  10. age
  11. aircraft
  12. alarm
  13. american
  14. americans
  15. angela
  16. anniversary
  17. anymore
  18. applause
  19. architecture
  20. area
  21. areas
  22. argument
  23. arguments
  24. arriving
  25. athens
  26. atrocities
  27. auschwitz
  28. austerity
  29. backed
  30. bad
  31. barack
  32. based
  33. beaches
  34. bells
  35. beneath
  36. big
  37. bit
  38. blame
  39. bomb
  40. bomber
  41. bombing
  42. bombs
  43. books
  44. bookshop
  45. booming
  46. brand
  47. bringing
  48. britain
  49. british
  50. brits
  51. broke
  52. built
  53. business
  54. call
  55. calm
  56. camp
  57. camps
  58. carried
  59. cartoon
  60. carved
  61. case
  62. central
  63. chancellor
  64. children
  65. chinese
  66. chosen
  67. churchill
  68. city
  69. civilians
  70. cleaner
  71. clinton
  72. collections
  73. coming
  74. command
  75. commemorate
  76. companies
  77. comparing
  78. comparisons
  79. complicated
  80. concentration
  81. concerned
  82. conclusion
  83. consequence
  84. cost
  85. countries
  86. country
  87. couple
  88. courses
  89. crisis
  90. crowded
  91. dachau
  92. damaging
  93. dark
  94. dawned
  95. day
  96. dead
  97. deal
  98. dear
  99. debate
  100. dedicated
  101. defeating
  102. deserved
  103. designed
  104. desperately
  105. devoted
  106. died
  107. difficult
  108. dig
  109. diplomat
  110. diplomats
  111. direct
  112. distrust
  113. disturbing
  114. dramatizations
  115. draw
  116. drive
  117. dropped
  118. dutch
  119. earth
  120. economic
  121. elisabeth
  122. emotional
  123. emotions
  124. endured
  125. enemies
  126. entire
  127. europe
  128. european
  129. event
  130. events
  131. eventually
  132. evil
  133. exact
  134. examples
  135. fact
  136. fear
  137. feel
  138. felt
  139. field
  140. figures
  141. fill
  142. films
  143. finally
  144. find
  145. finest
  146. finger
  147. flew
  148. forget
  149. foster
  150. fostering
  151. fought
  152. fourth
  153. freedom
  154. frei
  155. french
  156. full
  157. games
  158. gates
  159. gather
  160. generation
  161. german
  162. germans
  163. germany
  164. giant
  165. give
  166. golden
  167. good
  168. great
  169. greatest
  170. greece
  171. greek
  172. greeks
  173. grey
  174. group
  175. guys
  176. happen
  177. happened
  178. harmless
  179. head
  180. headline
  181. headlines
  182. heads
  183. hear
  184. heart
  185. heroes
  186. heroism
  187. hillary
  188. historian
  189. historical
  190. history
  191. hitler
  192. hold
  193. hollywood
  194. house
  195. huge
  196. husband
  197. idea
  198. identical
  199. ii
  200. implication
  201. important
  202. imposed
  203. included
  204. increasingly
  205. industry
  206. inherent
  207. inscription
  208. inspire
  209. inspiring
  210. interesting
  211. international
  212. invoking
  213. italian
  214. japanese
  215. job
  216. journalist
  217. journalists
  218. june
  219. keith
  220. killed
  221. kind
  222. koreans
  223. landings
  224. largely
  225. largest
  226. laughter
  227. leaders
  228. learn
  229. left
  230. liberated
  231. liberating
  232. life
  233. link
  234. lips
  235. live
  236. lives
  237. local
  238. london
  239. long
  240. lost
  241. lot
  242. lowe
  243. lynched
  244. macht
  245. majority
  246. making
  247. managed
  248. matter
  249. memorial
  250. memorials
  251. men
  252. mention
  253. mentioned
  254. merkel
  255. message
  256. messy
  257. middle
  258. minister
  259. minute
  260. modern
  261. moment
  262. monopoly
  263. monsters
  264. monument
  265. motto
  266. movies
  267. moving
  268. museums
  269. myth
  270. myths
  271. nation
  272. national
  273. nationalities
  274. nazi
  275. nazis
  276. newspaper
  277. nineties
  278. nonsense
  279. normandy
  280. norwegians
  281. notice
  282. novels
  283. obama
  284. obsessed
  285. offer
  286. olympic
  287. opened
  288. ordinary
  289. owe
  290. parts
  291. peaceful
  292. peacefully
  293. people
  294. photograph
  295. photoshopped
  296. picture
  297. piece
  298. pillars
  299. place
  300. places
  301. planes
  302. pleased
  303. point
  304. politician
  305. politicians
  306. portrayed
  307. powerful
  308. precious
  309. precisely
  310. press
  311. pretend
  312. pretty
  313. pride
  314. prime
  315. problem
  316. problems
  317. produced
  318. proud
  319. provoke
  320. public
  321. published
  322. put
  323. putin
  324. queen
  325. question
  326. quickly
  327. quotation
  328. rational
  329. reaction
  330. real
  331. realized
  332. reason
  333. red
  334. reference
  335. reich
  336. remember
  337. remembering
  338. remind
  339. response
  340. resurrect
  341. retired
  342. retiring
  343. rhetoric
  344. ring
  345. rocked
  346. russians
  347. salute
  348. schedules
  349. schoolroom
  350. selection
  351. selfless
  352. sense
  353. shot
  354. shy
  355. side
  356. situation
  357. society
  358. solved
  359. songs
  360. sort
  361. sorts
  362. southern
  363. space
  364. speak
  365. speeches
  366. spend
  367. spirit
  368. start
  369. started
  370. starts
  371. state
  372. stations
  373. step
  374. stirring
  375. stone
  376. stood
  377. stories
  378. story
  379. strikes
  380. struggle
  381. study
  382. suffering
  383. suggest
  384. summer
  385. summits
  386. supposed
  387. surge
  388. talking
  389. telling
  390. tells
  391. tend
  392. thinking
  393. thought
  394. thousand
  395. thousands
  396. thrown
  397. time
  398. tiny
  399. today
  400. tore
  401. trained
  402. truth
  403. turned
  404. tv
  405. ugly
  406. ukraine
  407. ukrainians
  408. uncomfortable
  409. uniform
  410. union
  411. university
  412. values
  413. vast
  414. veterans
  415. victims
  416. vladimir
  417. voice
  418. walk
  419. walking
  420. wall
  421. war
  422. wartime
  423. weighed
  424. west
  425. wife
  426. window
  427. winston
  428. women
  429. world
  430. worse
  431. write
  432. written
  433. year
  434. yugoslavia