Essays: Waffen waffle |
[Invisible line of text as temporary way to expand content column justified text width to hit margins on most viewports, simply for improved display stability in the interval between column creation and loading]

Waffen waffle

‘I AM very angry,’ said ex-Waffen SS Lieutenant-Colonel Hubert Meyer on News at Ten (ITN). He felt it was a bit steep being slung so precipitately out of the country, when the only reason he had come was ‘to tell here what I am sinking is the truce about my troops.’

Actually, when you stopped laughing and sought about it, the old fool had a point. The Home Office ought not to make a practice of ousting people who have never been accused of any crime: disapproving of someone’s face or friends is a paltry reason for shoving him out, even when the face, and especially the friends, are as unsettling as Colonel Meyer’s.

Like the Gestapo, the SS was declared by the first Nuremberg indictments to be a criminal organisation, but it was recognised that it would be unjust, as well as impractical, to put all its members behind bars. The onus was left on the prosecution to show that any given member had committed substantive crimes. Thus an important principle — that the accused should be assumed innocent until proved guilty — was preserved, although at the cost of letting a great number of unrepentant bastards off scot free.

For three decades all concerned kept a low profile, until a new generation had grown up who couldn’t tell the Waffen SS from a waffle iron. The time has now come when grotesque lies about the past can be told in safety. At the most, people will think the point ‘controversial,’ especially when it is debated on television. When David Irving’s silly ideas about Hitler were discussed on the Frost programme, people were led to believe that his thesis was ‘controversial.’ In reality, of course, there is no controversy: Irving was simply wrong.

Similarly, when the culpability of the Waffen SS was discussed last week on Nationwide (BBC1), the uninstructed viewer was left to decide between the perpetrators of a silly book on the one hand, and Mr Winston Churchill on the other. Young Winston had not read the book in question, but thought that rant might serve as a substitute for reasoned argument. The resulting shout-up was refereed by Sue Lawley. It was not amazing that the issue remained clouded, nor that, at the end of a week of farce, giving three doddering old Nazis their marching orders seemed a feeble punishment for what the SS had got up to in occupied Europe, and clumsy misuse of power by the Home Secretary, who is supposed to help keep Britain free.

Free, among other things, to produce more people like Billy (Thames). For the viewer still hauling himself to his knees after ‘Dummy,’ ‘Billy’ was like being hit over the head with a sock full of sand. It was a documentary all about Billy, who had been born in Glasgow, raised in Great Yarmouth, and had extended his family’s history of violence into new realms of actual bodily harm, grievous bodily harm, and assault. Billy himself was more than willing to tell us all about it. ‘Blood and teeth all over the place,’ he announced with equanimity, describing the effect produced by hitting his youngest brother very hard in the mouth.

Billy seemed particularly proud of the fact that the victim had been his youngest brother. None of that nonsense about hitting someone the same size as yourself, or a bit smaller. The person to hit was someone a great deal smaller. Billy had that air of clinical objectivity often produced by the television confessional, in which one’s own deeds somehow always sound as if they had been committed by somebody else. And in a way they were: the perpetrator is not the same man as he was before he got on television, and if he could stay on television for ever he would obviously never sin again.

It takes only a small change of circumstances to change the man. Look at all those erstwhile SS men who became impeccable burghers, thereby proving that the best way of avoiding atrocities is to deprive people of opportunities to commit them. Or, if you are sick of looking at decrepit supermen, cast an eye on the fresh young face of Mark Phillips, consort of Princess Anne, who this week was delivered of a child, to the boundless delight of horse-lovers everywhere.

It should be apparent that Mark ranks about equal with Billy in basic human clay. If anything, Billy has the edge: ‘blood and teeth all over the place’ is a more vivid remark than any Mark has ever been known to come up with. For energy and raw intelligence, there is not much to choose between them. But their upbringings have made all the difference.

‘He is, after all, the best horseman in the world,’ declared Nigel Dempster on Thames at Six (Thames). Needless to say, Dempster was not referring to Billy. On the same programme, Janet Street-Porter suggested that the baby should be called Rocky — an excellent idea. Everybody was happy for Mark, and why not? He blends into the Royal Family without a seam showing, since he is almost as middle class as they are.

Unlike the aristocracy proper, who have at least the possibility of leisure, the Royals are fully occupied with their duties. They are the paradigm case of appointments kept, gifts acknowledged, promises fulfilled. No wonder the toiling masses are loyal through thick and thin. Whose word would you rather trust, Prince Charles’s or Roy Hattersley’s? Hatters was on the Labour Party Political Broadcast (ITV), saying that Callaghan was right about inflation coming down to single figures next year. How does he know that, when next year hasn’t happened yet? Why does he think we will believe him?

The Two Ronnies (BBC1) were back, featuring a song from the Nolan Sisters, which will be a monster hit, or my name is not Roy Hattersley. I resented every minute of Miss World (BBC1), since it clashed with You Were Never Lovelier, the Fred Astaire movie on BBC2. Not one of his best films, but Rita Hayworth, his partner in it, was a miracle of beauty and talent, whereas the girls in the contest had little of either, and Andy Williams was a lousy compère. Add the fact that the Beeb’s front man was more than usually vulgar and you had all the ingredients of a stomach ache.

The Observer, 20th November 1977