This weekend has been taken over by memories of D Day. I know I've got to tread a fine line here, but I hate these establishment bun fights. I'm all for veterans returning to the beaches to quietly remember, but the sight of Prince Charles, who was never in any war, striding around with a chest-full of medals, receiving the homage of the crowd, just brings out the anarchist brat in me.
Britain is blinded to itself by the myth of WWII. I expect the same is true (to a lesser extent) of America. "The Finest Hour", "The Greatest Generation". We slather on the self-righteousness like sun block. Yes, our grandfathers behaved very courageously on the Normandy beaches, but it doesn't do our souls any good to keep going on about it.
40% of British school children have little idea what D Day was about. The tabloids were shocked, but I'm not. D Day is recent history, but in terms of what Britian now is- a post-imperial, multi-cultural nation on the edge of a united Europe- it is as ancient and irrelevant as Mafeking or Waterloo. WWII was the end of All That. By running up the flags and parading the troops and pinning the medals to Prince Charles's chest we are prolonging a fantasy.
But it's a fantasy which still drives British foreign policy. We are history's heroes. We are the world's policemen. We are the cat who "gallops about doing good." Listen to Blair. And look at Blair's record. The Iraqi adventure was dressed up- absurdly- as though it were some sort of moral replay of WWII. Saddam was a bad as Hitler, opponents of the war were guilty of appeasement, the invasion was a liberation.
World War II killed off the British Empire, but reinforced the imperial myth of British superiority- moral, military, cultural. British politicians have traded upon that myth for the last 60 years- but with ever-diminishing returns. Maybe Iraq is the last hurrah. Time to mothball the uniforms and put the medals in a museum display case and go play at something else.