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World War 2

“Britain, I think rightly, derives a great deal of strength from its performance in the Second World War. Perhaps no other nation in Europe emerges from that war intact — either because of the humiliation of conquest, the humiliation of initiating the war, or the humiliation of collaboration.

And more materially: Hitler conquered a string of countries in a matter of days, sometimes a matter of hours. Denmark, 24 hours; France, 39 days; Yugoslavia, 7 days; Greece, 12 days. And leading up to the attack on Russia, which until halfway through 1941 looked as though it was going to be maybe 45 days. The only defeat suffered by Germany in that time was the Battle of Britain in 1940.

There were all these governments in exile that were standing with us, but we stood alone and we did prevail in the end, although as a minor player by the time the war ended. And I think that’s fit to shape how you see yourself for generations. There was always a feeling — and I think a perfectly intelligible feeling — that a great evil had been bested in the end.

Germany has made superhuman efforts to come to terms with its past. And still wants to talk about it. And is not shying away from it. But it seems to me that France has made no efforts at all in that direction: the myth of the resistance nation has completely supplanted the reality of the collaborationist nation. It takes all my powers of imagination and empathy to think myself into a French skin or a German skin for that reason, because of how tremendously diminished I would be. And ultimately, the English performance, and conduct, in the war is something to be proud of. That is not the case elsewhere.”

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From the BBC program, released in March of this year, entitled Martin Amis’s England.

More Amis:

  • On storytelling: why failure, not success, is its main subject
  • On memory: why it matters more as you age
  • On innocence: why the world is getting less so

Martin Amis