Britain’s memory of war and the Brexit debate | Letters

Readers respond after the outgoing German ambassador says some Brexiters were motivated by a sense of national identity built around the UK standing alone

Will continental politicians and diplomats ever realise that the UK is not abandoning Europe, but leaving the EU (German ambassador tells Brexiters: stop fixating on second world war, 30 January)? If the German ambassador wants to understand the “finest hour” legend, he should look for the truth beneath the mythology. In standing alone the British people put the interests of Europe first, resolving to die fighting rather than allow the Nazis to dominate the continent.

I shudder to think what might have been. Lord Halifax did have a point: we had secure links to a maritime empire and pacifist public opinion throughout the Anglosphere would have allowed Hitler to dominate Europe. With entente with the Nazis, Britain could have reaped the profits of empire, and dealt with the real threat to their imperial and commercial prosperity in the Far East.

Britain took an expensive stand for the freedom of Europe in 1940. I have every confidence we would do so again, whether or not were were members of the EU, and the peoples of Europe know it. Those of who voted leave ask only for the democratic result of the referendum to be honoured. If the EU wishes to trade with us they will help create an appropriate trading relationship in a spirit of respect and goodwill.
David Horsley
Huddersfield, West Yorkshire

• I think Peter Ammon is absolutely right. I was a child in the 1950s, with parents and grandparents who had experienced two devastating and brutal world wars in 20 years. They rarely talked to me of their war, but the mantra “the only good German is a dead German” was often added to the end of any story they did tell. An understandable motivation while fighting an existential struggle, undeniably.

Look at the backgrounds of the Brexit MPs, and many will have had military forebears who instilled the same mantra.

As a young man in my 20s I worked in Berlin in the 1970s, and all the Germans I met there were determined that the horrors of all-out war should not come again, and that they would build a peaceful Europe against whatever odds. They changed my thinking completely.

Putting aside racial hatred is difficult, and so is making friends with former enemies (see Northern Ireland), but talking is so much better than fighting. I grew up seeing the bomb-damaged cities of the Midlands and elsewhere in Britain – have we forgotten so soon?

Remember how much total war costs in human and prosperity terms, and a talking-shop insurance policy like the EU begins to look very good value for money. If only we hadn’t sent our second-best politicians there.

How can anybody be naive enough to advocate cutting the multitude of political, administrative, commercial, technological and personal relationships built up over 40 years with our closest neighbours, in favour of trying to build new bonds with countries much further away, some of whom do not share our societal values and perhaps should be more cautiously regarded as our political rivals in the world?
Peter Harris
Pershore, Worcestershire

• So the “German ambassador tells Brexiters: stop fixating on second world war”. I might have been more convinced had your front page not also carried an article headlined “VW tested diesel fumes on monkeys and humans”. We already know of the Nazis’ use of vehicle fumes in their criminal experiments to murder large groups of unwanted people. Chillingly, VW have joined up the present and the past so many, like me, will make the connection back to those experiments. I write as a convinced (Jewish) remainer and among my reasons for supporting remain is precisely the second world war, and the hope of avoiding a third. This is never far from my mind.
Lawrence Suss

• I am a war child and lived with my parents and four siblings two miles from a Spitfire airfield, so we saw a lot of action. We were not particularly protected from the news and the horrors of war, and when peace came once more we were overjoyed to have a new government in place that would make a real difference to those in need, and it did. I welcomed our entry into the European Union (stronger together!) and am appalled by the self-serving behaviour, the lies and the posturing of this present apology for government, and the misguided beliefs of a sizable section of the population.
Ruth Baden
Seer Green, Buckinghamshire

• The German ambassador in his valedictory speech said that Britain was rightly proud of its history. Quite. But among the most justifiable causes for pride in our relatively recent history are our contribution to the postwar peace in Europe, the building of the welfare state and the creation of the NHS, all of which achievements are currently jeopardised by the vainglorious jingoism of ideologues hellbent on their destruction. It is incumbent upon those of us who take a rightful pride in these achievements to stand up for them in the face of this threat.
Austen Lynch
Garstang, Lancashire

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