do not mention the war

Book Review pt. 2: John Ramsden: Don’t Mention the War.

In England, Football, Germany, History, Identity, Literature, Sport, Stereotypes on August 9, 2010 at 11:04

John Ramsden: Don’t Mention the War. The British and the Germans since 1890. London: Abacus, 2007, p.464

To start with, this book covers a lot of ground and Ramsden does so in a prolific manner, yet the subtitle suggests that it is about the British and the Germans but the latter part is missing. Starting with a personal experience of meeting a German ex-soldier who went to Russia once, in a tank, he covers the development of Anglo-German relationships from around 1890, a time when between these two countries some things started to go wrong and he finishes with a quote by Joschka Fischer, then German foreign secretary, saying that politically the relationship is in good health, while “people to people, there is a problem.”, thus highlighting the problem of a press and a public that is still entangled in the past, most notably the Second World War.

The first chapters deal with the time between 1890 and 1914 where the mood in Britain towards Germany changed from where the Germans were seen as an amicable people to the point when Britain learned to hate during the Great War. Ramsden tells how Jerome K. Jerome travelled to Germany and how he was positively impressed by the Germans only to come back to England to find out that both countries were about to go to fight each other.

After the First World War relations surprisingly resumed normal status relatively soon, however in 1938 with the occupation of the Sudeten by Germany public opinion in Britain changed and fears of another war were stirred. Although Churchill is quoted as not being judgemental about a people who have just kickstarted the most attrocious war to date, there remained elements within British government that could not hide their negative feelings towards Germany such as Ernest Bevin, who was trying ” ‘ard but”…still ” ‘ates them.”

Chapter after chapter on the period since 1945 deal with the aspect of German rearmament and the western integration as the Cold War increasingly dictated politics and with the portrayal and roles of Germans in war films, making this book interesting not just for students of history but also for film and media studies.

Chapter nine is certainly of most interest for my PhD project as it focusses on football and Anglo-German relationships post 1945 in relation to football. The focal point is Bert Trautmann and how his arrival at ManCity in 1949 was accompanied by protests from the people of Manchester as well as City fans. It was the Rabbi of Manchester who welcomed him to the city and the club. The rest is history. Trautmann became a hero for City fans and was voted best player for City of all time in 2007. Ramsden however states that after Trautmann retired something has gone wrong in England as the image of Germany and its people altered dramatically since the late 1960s. Not just in football did the mood become Germanophob but also in public life did opinions dramatically change. Whatever this may be that has changed, it climaxed in Mrs. Thatcher’s oppostion of German unification based on the presumption that the Germans will never change.

The only downside is that the notes need to be downloaded from www.johnramsden-dmtw.co.uk This link is dead now and those who have downloaded the notes are certainly lucky ones.

The name of the book clearly indicates where the name of this blog comes from. There is no need denying it. This book influenced my thinking on the topic and made it easy for me to find a suitable title for my online writings. What is missing though is a view from the other side, i.e. Germany and the response of Germans to things such as music, politics and football.

John Ramsden taught until retirement in 2008 at Queen Mary, University of London, and was said to be the leading historian of the Conservative party of his generation. He died on October 16 2009.

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