Clint Eastwood's new film is built around the most iconic image of victorious soldiers raising the flag.
Good idea, perhaps, but he used the wrong picture and the wrong flag! (It is a symptom of our cultural domination by the USA that the equally iconic image of Russian soldiers hoisting the red flag over the rubble of the Reichstag is rarely seen in Britain)
The second world war has taken on a mythic status, as seen in the films of Steven Speilberg, etc. And the generation, like my father, who fought in that war, are regarded as the heroes, the good soldiers who fought in a clearly justifiable war.
But there was more than one war. There was a war to keep the British colonies, and there was a war between the Japanese empire and the British Empire and USA to determine which brutal superpower would dominate Asia. This is the war that Clint Eastwood celebrates.
Let us remember the other flag of our fathers, and the hundreds of thousands of soldiers who enlisted to fight in the other war, the war against facism. Many soldiers in the British army who wanted to fight Hitler were diverted by the bosses to serve Britain's own sordid imperial interests in the Far East, but at the same time there WAS a people's war here in Britain - a popular mobilisation that overthrew Mussolini and Hitler. There was a war in Europe against fascism, a just war.
The defeat at Dunkirk had destroyed the authority of the Colonel Blimps and chinless wonders who wanted an unpoliticised "professional" army, and instead for the first time since the Putney debates at the end of the English revolution the British army were involved in democratic debate about war aims, and what they were fighting for. An unoffical soldiers parliament was convened in Cairo, the first act of which was to demand the nationalisation of the land and banks; and every army unit had an official political education programme, and the education officers were often CP members.
It as become fashionable in recent years to twin together Hitler and Stalin as equally terrible tyrants. What a travesty. The Soviet bureucracy was brutal and undemocratic, but they were not fighting to promote racial supremacy and they never created an industrial process to destroy human beings and turn them into lamp shades. Were the crimes of the Soviet bureaucracy worse then the crimes of the British government during its own industrial revolution?
The victory of the Axis forces would have thrown the human race into a dark barbarism beyond our most fevered nightmares. Fascism was halted in the Streets of Stalingrad by the Red Army, and the hundreds of thousands of partisans who harried the fascist armies, in the Ukraine, Belorus, Italy, France and elsewhere. But let us not forget the paradox that for those brief few years Churchill and Roosevelt also fought fascism, and young men from Britain and America were the people's soldiers.