It seems you can’t flick through the television channels these days without coming across some new documentary or programme concerning the Second World War. The latest I’ve come across is ‘Secret Weapons of World War II,’ a programme that seems to be all about a few lame ideas that were never going to work and were probably never seriously considered in the first place. It follows on from many previous documentaries such as ‘World War II in HD Colour,’ A programme so banal and rehashed from every other World War II documentary series ever made that it has to advertise itself as being both in HD and Colour just to attract attention to itself. There has been such a slew of D-Day documentaries over the last few years that the Normandy beaches can’t have had a day go by when they weren’t completely covered by film crews. And then on top of the endless documentaries you have the games like COD, which to be honest wasn’t bad to begin with… But besides COD you have the likes of Medal of Honour, Battlefield, Wolfenstein and plenty of others besides. It seems every game these days is a rehash of the same World War two shooter (or if not that an Alien Space Marine shooter) and as with the documentaries you can’t go into a games shop without them staring at you in the face. Add to this the number of war films and an obscene amount of books (Which include a few selectively barrel scraping titles as: Collectible Spoons of the Third Reich) you could spend the whole of your life immersed in the war and never have to return to the present. So all of this surely begs the question: Is there just too much of the Second World War around?
Now don’t get me wrong, World War Two is an important event in world history and we can’t forget some of the terrible things that happened. We have to remember these events so that they don’t happen again. Also, some people find the Second World War fascinating and I’m not going to criticize anybody for that. It’s fair enough and true to say that the Second World War can be interesting. But surely even those people who find it interesting can’t fail to notice that the Second World War is everywhere and surely even they don’t want the amount of it around that there is. There is so much more history out there. After all, in terms of timescale the war a blip. It’s nothing… Six years. That’s all. Yes, an awful lot of people do find the war interesting and as I said that’s fair enough, but a lot of people find other periods interesting too, the medieval period or the Roman period for instance. Devoting so much time and energy on World War Two for that reason is a bit like a having a general sports channel that only caters to Manchester United Fans… (And yes, i realize that the irony with that statement is that The History Channel did only show WW2 programmes before it somehow forgot the meaning of History!) The point I’m trying to make is that not everybody is interested in WW2 just like not everybody is a fan of Manchester United. It’s simply not cricket to cater so much to one specific interest when there is so much more out there. Yet, for one reason or another it is the most documented period of human history by a country mile.
For instance, a search for World War Two on Amazon Books brings up a total of 132,525 results. In contrast the English Civil War brings up 61,241 results. Less than half. The American Civil War comes up with 59,942. The Vietnam War has 43,698 and World War One has only 40,178 results. Those are just a few examples of other well known periods in history and by the time you get down to somewhere as little known the history of the Tywysogion (that’s the proper name for the Welsh Princes for those of you who’ve never heard that before,) The results are a piddling 2,187 and only about five of those seem relevant. What becomes clear when we look at these statistics is that World War Two has, for one reason or another, become the ‘dominant’ period of history when there are so are so many other periods that are just as interesting and just as important. Take Henry VIII’s break with Rome and the Catholic church. It is a momentous event in world history and the aftershocks can be traced right down to Culloden in 1746, a whopping two hundred years later. Whilst the main event may in itself be well studied, it’s nowhere near as much as WW2 has been studied, not by a long chalk. And it just so happens that the aftershocks, which are still interesting are studied a lot less than the main event. You hardly ever hear mention of the recusants from the reign of Elizabeth I for instance. Likewise Edward VI and Mary I are virtually ignored and so is most of what happened in the years following the restoration. It’s just as important, perhaps moreso because it’s impact on society and it’s consequences were both far reaching and longer lasting, something which you can’t really say that the war has had to the same sort of extent.
And when you look at what is really out there concerning the war, the documentaries, the books, and such, it’s really very selective in terms of scope and depth. Much of what is out there concentrates on the major events or people- The Battle of Britain, D-Day, The North Africa Campaign, Pearl Harbour etc… And even then these events are usually taken out of context with everything else. They’re isolated and not treated as a part of the whole like they should be. For instance, it’s rare you’ll see a documentary on Vichy France or on the Italian campaign or even on the build up and causes of the War, all of which are as important to the bigger picture as the likes of D-Day and the North Africa campaign. When you do get to see those things it’s often done very quickly and never in as much depth as the likes of D-Day. Take the Italian Campaign, it lasted for a whole year longer than the Northern European campaign and yet it hardly receives a mention. Likewise the other Mediterranean campaigns are hardly ever mentioned. You never hear of Malta which withstood a whole two years of siege and heavy bombing and even then they didn’t capitulate. They even got the George Cross for that one. Yes there may be a few war films about these incidents but in terms of documentaries and books you’ll hardly ever find them mentioned and what it shows is a very much narrow minded and limited viewpoint on the part of the historians and documentary makers who are responsible.
And let us not forget that the Second World War is still very much within living memory and there are people who don’t want to be reminded about it for any number of reasons and that’s quite understandable. Take the German populace for instance. Most of them do not want to dwell on the past and quite a lot of them are absolutely tired of hearing about it. They’ve moved on and put the past behind them. Even the veterans have reconciled with their old foes and today they will quite happily share a pint in a pub somewhere. And most of the time they don’t want to even talk about the war when they get together. It’s all in the past and they want to live the rest of their lives in peace. They don’t want memories of the war rammed down their throat every five minutes. Let’s take this a step further. Imagine you are a German citizen who comes over to Britain in order to live and work. (Estimates are that there are around 300,000 of them.) Everyday you switch on the television and you find yourself confronted by this barrage of the Second World War, almost as if the television was taunting you about a very small part of your nation’s history. In this case it could almost be described as bullying if you really think about it. Spreading the Second World War around in such a way that it is everywhere is certainly rather unfair to those people who don’t really want to remember it. It’s my guess that there is a good reason they don’t want to be reminded and we really should respect their wishes in all honesty.
So why is there so much of World War Two around? Is it because people find it interesting? Well partially… But people are also interested in other periods of history so you can’t really use it as an argument to justify the reason for spending so much time and effort focusing on the thing. Of course there is the fact that the war has one advantage over other, earlier periods in history: We have actual footage. And ok, fair enough. But then again we have footage for most of the 20th century. We have footage of The first war, the 20’s, the depression, the 50’s, Vietnam, Korea… And yet those eras are never paid nearly as much attention as the war gets. There are probably more documentaries about D-Day alone than there are documentaries about the depression. Is it because of its relation to modern society? Maybe a little… But that doesn’t explain why everything out there concerning the war is so selective or why they only pay attention to certain events and miss out others. And if anything the whole shabang of everything that happened between the wars is just as important as the war itself. Take the Sino-Japanese war. Without that there would have been no Pacific Theatre during the war. Yet for one reason or another you never hear of it being mentioned. It’s a similar case with the Spanish Civil War which can, in a way be seen as something of a precursor to the main event. There really is no justifiable reason why the Second World War should be given such precedence over other periods in history, even other parts of twentieth century history like the Sino-Japanese War or the Spanish Civil War for instance. There is also no reason whatsoever why there should be so much of it about.
What is certainly clear is that there is just far too much attention paid to the Second World War, especially in relation to other parts of history. Yes, it was important and we need to make sure nothing of its ilk happens again. There is nothing wrong with an occassional documentary or computer game or book about World War Two… But when you can’t move for them then it’s certainly time that they were scaled back considerably. That is the point where we currently stand. The Second World War is almost omnipresent in our society and I for one think it’s time we put it to bed for a while. I’m not saying that we forget it… Just that we start concentrating on something else.