Sustained Magnificence

Sixty-five years after the last guns ceased firing on the last Pacific atoll, Britons of all political persuasions are still wallowing in tepid World War II nostalgia.

For Atlanticists, neoconservatives, and classical liberals, the war was a great Anglosphere achievement, a landmark en route to social mobility plus mercantilism.  For nationalists and romantics, there is a lump-in-the-throat quality about the hyperclear image of the sceptered isle, standing alone against an armored upstart, asserting individuality against conformity, “the Few” against the militant many.  For nostalgists, the war represents the last gasp of the British Empire, compelled to destroy itself in order to save itself.  For modern leftists, in all other circumstances bitterly hostile to national pride, the war was an inevitable confrontation with racism and antisemitism (la lotta continua, for them).

The result of this unusual unanimity is that we are all daily bombarded with images, anecdotes, and evocations of the period.  So my immediate reaction, as I lifted yet another book about 1939-45—even one written by Max Hastings—was to sigh.

Hastings, foreseeing this likely reaction, disarmingly cites Boswell:

[Johnson] had once conceived the thought of writing The Life of Oliver Cromwell . . . He at length laid aside his scheme, on discovering that all that can be told...

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