Reading with the enemy

Longer ago than I want to admit knowing about Magazine had a song called Feed The Enemy.

Yes you do know. Almost certainly, if you’re in any way seriously into music, otherwise you’re in the same camp as someone saying they don’t know anything about Mozart because he did his stuff before they were born. And this on a rainy summer day when it’s far too wet to go for a walk and it’s Sunday too and even though there’s no school tomorrow and hasn’t been for several decades, only Kate Bush’s early songs can do justice to the mood of just-deferred despair that’s always been England, in my experience. I don’t mean the manic roaring in the ears of the Hounds of Love, but more the determined languid resignation of The Kick Inside. Anywaaaaaay, as girls called Emma used to say, curled up half-kneeling on the carpet in front of the fire in their Dad’s living room in the half dark of just the same kind of Sunday afternoons.

Anyway. Feed the Enemy was written when just for a change the official story of Stuff That Just Is was just as split-personality as it is now. The Soviets are a threat. All the time. They want to destroy our way of life. So we’d better sell them cheap butter and wine that’s cheap because we make too much of it so the EC buys it and flogs it off to the USSR and complains about them invading Afghanistan at the same time. When university politics lecturers said things like ‘the USSR has to expand somewhere…’ (yes I’m looking at you, Southampton University Class of Oh Is That The Time Already?) It doesn’t really matter when it was. The names change but it’s always the same story. We give people guns or look the other way when our friends do then run about screaming that they’re trying to destroy our way of life.

Anywaaaaaaay, all of which, imaginary Emma from long ago, is a way of saying I had a bit of a First World Problem this week. Do you feed the enemy or not? I wanted a book. It was a biography of Rommel and the first page grabbed me because of the way it was written. It wasn’t the usual MilHist: “at 18:24 the XIVDivision advanced towards Mersa Matruh unchecked with only light casualties” describing families’s hopes and dreams like their menfolk rent limb from limb and burned alive. It was actually readable, about the man behind the legend.

So far so what?

Rude, but a fair point. I didn’t always read this stuff. I feel I need to now, possibly because I didn’t, possibly because for my generation the War as The Big Secret that adults didn’t talk about in any detail, it being distinctly bad form if they did and also as I know now, because it was much, much too soon away to start talking about it. And for other reasons involving people I know and people I’ve met and talked to.

The big FWP was simple. I wanted to buy the book. But it was written by David Irving. Mr Holocaust Denier. I wasn’t there. I’ve seen the photos and everyone else has as well, the same as I’ve seen photos of unicorns. In Photoshop world a photo on your laptop screen doesn’t prove anything one way or the other. I read about the American massacre of guards at Auschwitz who got themselves machine-gunned after they surrendered because the liberating Americans found a train full of machine-gunned Jews there. The fact that American aircraft had shot it up not knowing and not able to know what or who was inside wasn’t known and was surprisingly not well-advertised until much later. I don’t know if, as Irving maintained, there was or wasn’t arsenic in the plaster of the walls at the camp. But I’ve met people who saw piles of bodies at the camps with their own eyes.

I don’t understand why if there were extermination camps rather than say, camps where no-one particularly cared if the inmates died or not, why anyone at all survived there. But whether those people died of gas or bullets or typhoid doesn’t really matter, it seems to me. It also seems insane to say that what thousands of people saw for themselves just didn’t happen.

Hence the dillemma. The book was second-hand, after all, so it’s not as if Mr Irving was going to get my money for his stuff, and it was written a decade before he seems to have finally gone nuts and started saying things people I’ve spoken to saw for themselves just didn’t happen. But still. Do you buy the book? Do you have anything to do with people whose ideas are mind-numbingly offensive, however remote? Do you feed the enemy or not?

It’s always raining over the border
There’s been a plane crash out there
In the wheat fields
They’re picking up the pieces
We could go and look and stare

How many friends have we over there?
The border guards fight unconvincingly
Whatever we do it seems things are arranged
We always have to feed the enemy.

Magazine (Tomlinson/Devoto/Sony – Feed The Enemy).

The old man who told me about the time he saw the piles of bodies for himself, along with the rest of his squadron when they occupied a German airfield also told me how his unit marched the inhabitants of the nearest German town through the camp so nobody could say “I didn’t know.” He also told me how that evening there was a serious discussion about how maybe it would be a good idea to just break open the armoury and go back into town and shoot everyone they saw.

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