Feb 2001 Journal

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2½ Cheers for PC

You may remember the “U (upper class) or non-U” controversy of the Fifties. Today’s most bandied about catchphrase is, of course, ‘PC (politically correct) or non-PC’. And, despite the fact that political correctness offers a sitting target for broad satire along the lines of ‘Where is the wheelchair access on this combat helicopter?’, it is, overall, a good thing. In fact anyone who has experienced racial discrimination must account it a very good thing indeed.

Readers will feel a twinge of discomfort when they recall Fagin’s outsize prosthetic nose in the 1948 film of Oliver Twist. Half a century on no director would contemplate such an affront to Jewish sensitivities; the TV script writer Alan Bleasdale has even gone so far as to change Fagin from a criminal into a magician.

Such a re-definition of what constitutes ‘entertainment’ is surely to be welcomed, and we all ought to raise three cheers for political correctness. However, things aren’t that simple! Existing, as they did, on the margins of society, some Jews dabbled in crime – which explains why traces of Yiddish crept into thieves’ argot (or Rotwelsch).

No Jewish representative with aspirations to credibility would deny the historic existence of the infamous Ikey Solomon, Dickens’ model for Fagin. Yet we find that ‘Black Consciousness’ spokesmen reject the historically proven fact that the slave trade involved blacks both as perpetrators and victims as white disinformation.

The issue is further complicated by ultra-liberal Whites who argue that their dreadful past entitled Blacks to ride roughshod over dispassionate scholarly analysis.

Perhaps, though, it is of more immediate interest how political correctness affects – or fails to affect – the Europe debate within these shores. The ‘little Englander’ mentality which represents the chief obstacle to Britain’s closer European integration, feeds on such thoroughly non-PC perceptions as ‘all Germans are arrogant’, ‘all French are deceitful’, ‘all Italians are disorganised’ and so forth. We who have every reason to be wary of Germans (and others on the continent) are far from blind to the sea-change in attitudes that has taken place there since the war. Even so, I for one could not agree with the ultra-liberal conclusions drawn by the TV programme Five Steps to Tyranny transmitted before Christmas. This was that all people are the same au fond, and would, given the right sort of conditioning, commit the same atrocities. This begs the huge question of what constitutes the right sort of conditioning. It would differ astronomically from country to country. Just to take a few examples:

a)      the same Great Depression pushed America into the New Deal and Germany into Nazism

b)      the same Fascist system was symbolised in Italy by castor oil, and in Germany by Zyklon B

c)      the same fierce Right-Left antagonism that provoked civil war in 1930s Spain passed off without bloodshed in 1970s Portugal

d)      the same post-communist hangover produced economic recovery in Hungary and deterioration in Romania.

When I criticised the aforementioned TV programme to an ultra-liberal acquaintance, she said ‘But look at what we British did in Africa!’ To which I replied ‘I have looked, and however bad, it pales into insignificance beside what the Belgians did in the Congo, and the Germans in Hereroland (South-West Africa).’

Then something occurred to me: the executioner of the Hereros was a Bavarian judge appointed Governor of Deutsch Sqd-West by the Kaiser. (In those days the Kaiserreich led the world in scientific research, volume of book production and intensity of musical life.) His name was Heinrich Ernst Goering and in 1893 he had a son whom he called Hermann.

Thus, contrary to the title of the TV feature, Germany’s slide into tyranny took a mere two steps: a father who served Wilhelm the Second and a son who served Beelz.
Richard Grunberger

previous article:1940 and All That
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