History repeating




As you approach the Military Museum in Vienna there is a large sign at the entrance proclaiming ‘Kriege gehoeren ins Museum’ (wars belong in the museum). That is a fine sentiment indeed and a striking one.

If you are interested in the wars of the Habsburg Monarchy – especially the Empire’s calamitous experience in the First World War – then the Military Museum is a must see if you are ever in the city.

Austrians are, however, still reluctant to devote the same attention to the country’s incorporation into the Third Reich and its military role in the Second World War.

It isn’t that there is no information. It isn’t that the appeal of Hitler and Nazism is ignored. It’s just that 1939-45 appears to be someone else’s war – suggesting that some wars don’t belong so easily in museums after all.

Despite this coyness, one exhibit is striking.

There is a large poster of the Hitler Youth with the image of a generation in arms – male, female, in uniform and out of uniform.

It announces boldly:

Fuehrer Dir Gehoeren Wir’ / ‘Die Zukunft kann uns nichts anderes bringen als den Sieg. Und wenn uns die Welt nach den Gruenden fragt, so sagen wir. Weil uns der Herrgott unsern Fuehrer gab’.

Fuehrer We Belong to You / The future can only bring us nothing but victory. And if the world asks us for the grounds of our certainty, we say. Because the Lord our God gave us the Fuehrer.

The author was Artur Axmann – a true believer – who was leader of the Hitler Youth throughout the war.

Someone from Northern Ireland would find it hard to avoid a moment of local reflection and think of Sinn Fein and Gerry Adams. In doing so, it is not the National Socialist references that come to mind. Indeed, comparisons with Hitler and the Nazis are usually a sign of one’s imaginative poverty, a point made effectively by Douglas Murray in The Spectator when reviewing liberal responses to increased support for Alternative fuer Deutschland (AfD) in the recent federal election.

The opportunity can’t be missed, though, to mention a conversational remark of a former IRA man and ex-prisoner who has become a fierce critic of Sinn Fein and Adams.

When discussing support for the party, the success of its Troubles narrative in the nationalist electorate and the continued popularity of Gerry Adams, his judgement was sharp:

“Don’t be fooled by the vanity of the claim that the people of West Belfast constitute the ‘most sophisticated electorate’ in the world. If Adams announced that a spaceship was landing on Sunday afternoon to take everyone to Planet Nirvana, they’d all turn up.”

No. It isn’t partisan and politically loaded associations with the Third Reich which are worth pointing out. Instead, it is identifying once again the theme which has informed a number of previous posts on this site: that there is no guarantee of inevitable victory in the future; there is no good ground for believing in it; and while you might think your leader is God’s gift to the cause, you are probably mistaken.

Even Gerry Adams appears to accept the force of that argument and recognised that the spaceship of Irish Unity isn’t likely to land on planet earth anytime soon.

And if we move off the narrow ground of Northern Ireland, it is difficult not to revise the message at the entrance to the museum and associate the message of the poster within it to the Jeremy Corbyn’s speech at the Labour Party Conference.

Corbyn has taken the old class war of socialism out of the museum of British politics and put it back onto the policy agenda. Since he has never expressed any convincing disavowal of his support for the IRA’s ‘armed struggle, expect further re-writing of his own history as well as the return to bad politics on Northern Ireland.

Basking in the adoration of his audience – who now all belong to him in disturbing sycophancy – victory must now be inevitable because the Lord our God gave us Jeremy Corbyn.

How long, though, before all this looks as absurd as the faith and certainty of Artur Axmann 75 years ago?