Tuesday, January 18, 2005

The Harry update 

Prince Harry could have never imagined the storm of controversy his poor choice of a fancy costume would create. Now comes the news that the European Union might follow the German example and ban Nazi regalia altogether:

"Franco Frattini, the EU's justice and home affairs commissioner, said he was open to discussing the issue at a Jan. 27 meeting of EU justice ministers. 'It may be worth looking into the possibility of a total ban, a Europe-wide ban,' his spokesman, Friso Roscam Abbing, told reporters Monday. 'Commissioner Frattini shares the general feeling of opprobrium on the use of the swastika and other Nazi symbols'."
Guess what? The ban is only meant to cover swastikas and not hammers and sickles. Surprised? I'm not.

Meanwhile, Neil Clark, a tutor in history and politics at Oxford Tutorial College, argues that
we are making far too much out of the whole incident:

"In the midst of the brouhaha over Prince Harry's choice of costume for a private fancy dress party, it seems that the British are in great danger of losing the one thing which provided them with an important bulwark against the advance of fascism all those years ago - a sense of humour.

"Some would say that the reason the Blackshirts were never a political force in Britain between the wars was that, unlike Germany, the country lacked a burning sense of post-World War I grievance. That may be true, but there is another factor. Oswald Mosley - unlike his fascist counterparts on the continent - never made it big in Britain, because people laughed at him."
While I agree with Clark's general argument about the dangers of Political Correctness going too far, I'm somewhat skeptical of the historical lessons he draws:

"The PC brigade... constantly urges us to take fascism seriously. But if we really want to ensure that the horrors of 60 years ago never happen again, then taking fascism seriously is the last thing we should be doing...

"The swastika is symbolic of the most barbaric crime in the history of mankind. But however horrific the symbol is, it does not mean we can never - in the right circumstances - laugh at it. By laughing at fascists, Nazis and their emblems, we defend ourselves against them...

"As we near the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, it's worth remembering that such unspeakable atrocities occurred there not because people had laughed at far-right extremists. They occurred because too many people, a decade earlier, had failed to."
In other words, you scrooge on laughing gas, you will get the real gas instead. Actually, the problem prior to World War Two was not humorlessness but appeasement. It might be comforting - and intellectually titillating - to think that Hitler circa 1936 could have been stopped by twenty crack divisions of clowns and jesters instead of twenty crack French and British divisions. Comforting but wrong and pointless, although it doesn't surprise me that an academic like Clark will consider any method of fighting evil - but the use of force. In fifty years time, I'm sure, someone will write an article how instead of invading Afghanistan we should have made more fun of Osama bin Laden. As the old joke goes, "My father believed that laughter was the best medicine. I guess that's why my brothers and sisters all died of measles and tuberculosis."


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