europe’s long shadow


The memory of the second world war hangs over Europe, an inescapable and irresistible point of reference. Historical parallels are usually misleading and dangerous. The threat of economic collapse now is not the same as the threat of Nazism and war. But the current crisis still poses a threat to parliamentary democracy in Europe. It may awaken the nationalist monsters which the European ideal had tried to consign to history. Today it is very hard to appreciate the huge historical forces that killed some 60m to 70m people, or even more. Chinese historians now claim that more than 40m of their countrymen died, double the number that had been assumed earlier. And when counting the war dead, we could add to these figures all the victims of famine and illness brought on by malnutrition. It is almost impossible to distinguish between categories of suffering. When we dwell on the enormity of the second world war and its victims, we try to absorb all those statistics of national and ethnic tragedy. But, as a result, there is a tendency to overlook the way the war changed even the survivors’ lives in ways impossible to predict.

more from Antony Beevor at Prospect Magazine here.