The John Tusa Interviews
Transcript of the John Tusa Interview with Norman Davies
Norman Davies writes history, big history. His three books are huge in pages and weight and in ambition. For years he was known as the unrivalled historian of Poland , his two volume history being regarded as a classic especially in Poland itself. There he might have remained, a highly regarded specialist, pretty unknown by anyone outside the professional historians' field. Then in 1996 came Europe - A History, a 1400 page heavyweight trailing reviews and admiration behind it, and hold on, opinions. This was history with attitude, history with views, red-blooded history, not the dry as dust monograph with more apologies than views in it.
And there was worse. Davies took an unashamedly polemical stance casting Europe's net geographically wide to include the East, arguing for the need to see Europe as living on its two lungs, East and West, some were aghast. How can you write about Europe from the stand point of the Poles?
Well not content with setting Europe ablaze intellectually Davies then came home to Britain, or the United Kingdom, or the British Isles, well none of the above, because the book was called The Isles. Another heavyweight with another polemical or mischievous glint. The history of the Isles from the point of view of all their inhabitants, the Welsh, the Scots, the Irish, oh and the English too. This was history as corrective to the Westminster Kings and Queens of England school of history and politics.
So Norman Davies is now that rare commodity, something that some of us thought we would never see again, a celebrity historian.
Norman Davies, do you like the celebrity?
I'm not quite certain whether I like it or not, it's very tiring both the publicity side of it, doing a lot of talks and conferences and programmes, but also having been on television quite a lot especially in Poland and not walking down the street without interruption, something you must know about.
But this mixture of history and controversy, is it something you set out to do, is it something that you like?
I'm not certain that I set out deliberately to be as controversial as possible, I know that some people think that I do, I'm mischievous like my old tutor A.J.P.Taylor but I don't see how you can write history and hold strong and clear opinions about things without provoking controversy of one sort or the other. This is a sign of life, it's a sign of having an interpretation, and one simply wouldn't hope to satisfy absolutely everybody. I think it's a sign of a successful history book if it does arouse controversy of an intelligent, critical sort, not of course wild accusations which sometimes fly around but serious in depth discussions of people who disagree about this or that. That is a sign of real success.
Let's just say before about the general business of writing history. You begin Europe in the introduction by stating defiantly this book contains little that is original. Well it seems to me that's a bit like Oscar Wilde saying at the Immigration, I have nothing to
declare but my genius. The research may not be original but the ideas and your interpretation are entirely original. So why did you begin in that rather defensive way?
I think I was defending myself against charges which I've met before, that the work was not based on original documents, that this was not an academic archive-based analysis. This was history written at a different level, historical writing rather than historical research, which sought to present ideas, my interpretation of well known
events rather than digging out new facts, new sources, which other historians had never seen.
How important do you regard that fundamental research as being?
No historian can operate without basic documentary archive or research. It may be that one has to rely on research documents prepared by other colleagues, in my case having become something of a synthesis of writing grand panoramas, one simply could not begin without relying on the hard work of hundreds and thousands of colleagues. Historical knowledge is cumulative. So basic research is absolutely necessary but if one is to combine that with a major writing effort, life is too short to sit in the archives and work out the basic sources of 2,000 years.
When did you realise that you wanted to be the synthesiser, the writer, the grand simplificateur, rather than the hewer of wood and drawer of water in the archives?
I don't know whether I realised my bent quite so consciously. I had extreme stroke of luck, namely in the 1970s say when almost all my colleagues were being pushed into narrower and narrower specialisations, simply because of the torrent of new information which is becoming available on every possible subject. At that time I found myself as one of the very few specialists in a European country which seemed to me very central, right at the cross-roads of 20th century history, the cross-roads of, of course fascism and communism, and every army you can name marching around and I was asked to write a history of Poland which became of course The Oxford History of Poland - God's Playground in my thirties, when other colleagues were striving to publish academic articles on far, far narrower circles. So as it were by being a specialist in a highly unfashionable subject I gained experience as a historical writer which very few people had at that age.
Are you, do you feel slightly frowned upon because you openly say I am a synthesiser, I am a presenter, I am a simplifier, is there a certain amount of coughing behind the hand, and well Davies isn't really quite sound, he's very popular and he's on the television the whole time which is after all is very bad news to be a television don, do you think there is a certain amount of that going on behind colleague's hands?
There might be but I must say my colleagues generally speaking have been very generous, they've also been very keen to include my volumes in official academic research. I had a letter from the Faculty at Oxford University only this week, the University wants to use my volumes on their list of academic research. So no, I don't think too many people are contemptuous of synthesisers, of narrative historian, although there are, and of course the small number of back biters and people who want to attack you for ulterior motives will seize on this in order to minimise your importance. It's the sort of thing, oh he's only a journalist or he's only a writer, he's not a serious academic.
What about the skating on thin ice, I mean you can't be equally confident and au fait with all the periods and all the aspects of say the whole of Europe, clearly Poland is a strong point. But there must be some bits of it where you know that you were cobbling it together on a comparatively light reading.
This is absolutely true, one can't be a specialist in everything in the nature of things. In some ways one writes best, writes best, about periods where one is not incumbent by too much knowledge. You know what is very, very difficult is to synthesise major events, should I say the Second World War or the First World War which one has read mountains about, and one tries to include all sorts of things for which there's simply no space. Whereas other periods where one is not totally ignorant but knows enough to keep the pen flowing, come out in terms of narrative flow and conviction rather better than either the weakest subjects or one's strongest subject. Once or twice I was asked you know how many years research did you do on this Professor Davies? And I would say 55 years. What one is using is the accumulated knowledge and experience of a lifetime, a career spent in history and relying on a wide range of history, wide range of interests, France and Italy for example which is where I started, later going to Eastern Europe, Russia and Poland and having probably a broader spectrum of knowledge than many colleagues but, by no means adequate to the task. And one's very conscious of this but because you have to take a big breath at the beginning and get on with it, then you cease to take it too seriously. One has to skate on thin ice, and one has to skate quickly because if you stop you'll fall through.
Yeah, I think that's a very candid and honest admission, I think a lot of us can recognise it. What about the inaccuracies, because after all I mean you might put this down to back biting but also it's a perfectly fair point, and a lot of reviewers have said it, that for what is recognised as a history of real merit and imagination, there are just far too many errors and checkable errors in it. I mean what..... do you feel a bit shamed face by that now?
No, I don't feel shamed-faced, of course I try to correct the errors as far as one can which is not so simple because of course one receives a torrent of letters and one specialist will say you made a mistake on page so and so, and it should be something, and somebody else will write and give you another suggestion. Checking these facts is not so simple. But as a general point I believe there is a level of precision which is attainable and which is appropriate to the level of magnification at
which you're writing, if you're spending five years writing about whatever the reign of Henry VIII, then you can be expected to get practically everything factually correct. But if you're spending those five years writing the whole of the history not just of England but of the whole British Isles you have to take all sorts of things on trust, from secondary sources, you have to trust your own memory which one knows is sometimes faulty, you have to hand the manuscript over to colleagues who will check
things for you and don't always do so. So there are many ways in which the generalist simply can't reach the same level of precision that one would if one was writing an academic article. It's simply not possible.
Of course it's desirable. I quite often use the photographic metaphor that if you have a long distance picture then many of the details are going to be blurred because the lens simply won't pick up every little detail of a huge panorama. On the other hand if you have a telescopic lens then you can home in accurately on certain details but then other broader parts of the picture will be somewhat muzzy.
It's the big picture that we have and it justifies that, I think that's certainly an argument. But let's move on to your absolutely secure home ground, Poland for a moment, and your history God's Playground, more like the Devil's playground one would have thought. Did you set out to write about Poland because you had a Polish wife, or did you marry a Pole because you were so involved in Polish history?
The second. I became involved in first the Polish language, then Polish studies and writing Polish history before I became involved with Polish people, and marrying a Polish woman, yes. I think my interest arose through going there when I was very young, when I was still actually a student at Oxford in the early Sixties, and realising
that although I was about to be a graduate of Oxford University in Modern History, I knew virtually nothing about the history of Poland . Polish history only crossed one's reading or syllabus at those points when Poland was causing trouble to the great powers, the partitions of Poland, perhaps the rising of the 19th century, the outbreak of the Second World War, but Polish history for it's own sake, what history looked like from the view point of people on the receiving end in central Europe had never crossed my path at all.
And it was this sense of if you like amazement how little I knew even about the events of the Second World War. Just to give you an example, meeting my future father-in-law for the first time was an absolute eye opener, this is slightly later. But he was a man who had been arrested in 1939 for no reason at all by the Gestapo, had been thrown into Dachau and Matthausen. Had survived being extremely tough old thing, only to be arrested again at the so called liberation, and cast into a Soviet prison. Again not for having done anything but simply because he was an educated Polish professor. And this was something I find very difficult to comprehend as a British graduate about the Second World War, one had been taught about the liberation, as it were the liberation of the camps. The idea that those Nazi Concentration Camps were then used very often for political prisoners of the so called liberated countries, had never even crossed my mind. And here was this man of whom I became very fond telling me things of which I had never even dreamt, and that is why I became interested.
So Poland is the centre of suffering and experience but also I think you are just as concerned about Poland as being a cultural centre, even a political and democratic centre, that it doesn't get enough credit for that contribution to European experience.
Indeed, I think one of the aspects which fascinated but also impressed me greatly about Poland was the way that it's language and it's culture and it's religion had survived all the worst oppressions that came Europe 's way. The fact that a country can lose its independence, can lose control of its own political destiny, can become extremely poor from having been a great power and a rich power in the 16th century, is wiped from the map at the end of the 18th. And even that doesn't finish Poland off, somehow through the strength of its culture, it can survive and eventually re-surfaces in a new form and so on. So that whole story was both very uplifting but also very revealing because in a country like the United Kingdom which has been at the opposite end of the political spectrum, it's very hard to imagine what it's like to lose one's statehood completely.
Do you think it's in the explanation for how they've maintained their sense of identity, kept their tenacity against these awful experiences?
I wouldn't like to say that the Poles are unique in anyway, there are lots of other peoples who have been though terrible times and survived. But I think they did have a very solid apprenticeship in surviving adversity. They lost their statehood in stages in the 18th century and even then you can see Polish rulers, and Polish cultural leaders preparing the nation for the disaster that's come. The last King of Poland who set up of course I think the first state school system in Europe in the late 18th century, which educated a very critical generation, when statehood was lost, the last King of Poland saying 'if in 200 years time there are still a community of people who call themselves Poles then my work will not have been in vain'. So there you have a man more than 200 years ago consciously planning how it is the nation might survive the collapse of the state. He couldn't do anything about the ambitions of Russia and Prussia and Austria next door, but he could do something about the culture and the consciousness of his subjects, and he succeeded.
But your belief is that there is a lesson for Europe in this Polish experience, and there is a moral lesson which perhaps the most recent has been the example of Solidarity. So that we don't just look at Poland because it is a particularly poignant example of how history tramples upon a people, but that there is a European dimension to this.
I think there is a European dimension but I must say I didn't really write my history of Europe as it were through the eyes of a Pole, obviously with my Polish interest they came into it.
They were formed by a Polish sensibility.
Well one has to be informed by one's own experience, but I have many other experiences, and for those people who complain that there's too much of Poland in it. I say two things, first of all Poland , Lithuania , was absolutely the largest country in Europe at one time. We're talking about a country which went from greatness to destruction, and if you like half way back. But secondly, in Europe the country with the largest number of pages is undoubtedly Russia , and Russia is the largest country of Europe , and I think the proportions are reasonable.
Let's just shift on to Europe and your book there. I'm interested in the atmosphere, political, intellectual atmosphere in which you wrote it, because you quote H. A. L. Fisher writing in 1935 his history of Europe, and he said he wrote it as testimony to the 'squandered treasure of humanity, tolerance and good sense of Europe's Christian values'. Well clearly and understandably a mood of deep pessimism. When
you're writing in post-Communist 1990s, this was an altogether different perspective, this is buoyant Europe, a Europe which has rediscovered its freedom.
Yes, I think I was very moved by what Vaclav Havel called the return to Europe . Half a continent which had been artificially isolated from its neighbours for two or three generations came back to the fold, and having been involved not just in Polish but in central Europe in history to considerable extent, I was very aware of the necessity to raise one's eyes above the former Iron Curtain and to see the common threads which
had been very strong. If you take the longer view, if you like the interruption of the unity of Europe in the 20th century was a blinking of the eye, it was a period of a few decade whereas the free intercourse of East and Western Europe went on interrupted for much longer.
But we haven't got that back. Don't you think that the sense of division still permeates.
There's no doubt that the legacy of the division is still very strong, the legacy of attitude created by the Iron Curtain is still very strong, people's minds change even slower than the map of Europe. In the introduction I think I talk about the Penguin Book of Medieval Europe which says, this is not actually about the whole of Europe, it's about Latin Christendom, but it doesn't have anything to say whatsoever about the two largest kingdoms of medieval Latin Christendom, namely Poland and Hungary. They were absolutely the two largest pieces in the jigsaw, and yet mentally because those countries were behind the Iron Curtain, they could be safely forgotten. So a lot of the book is fighting anachronism i.e. there were times when Poland and Hungary were great Christian Catholic kingdoms within the sense of Europe as Christendom. My argument isn't at all that the former Eastern Europe is in always the equal or the comparable, no it's simply that it's there, it is part of the whole. And if you look for example at Western Europe which people tend to think of in homogenous terms comparing the West with East, the West itself is highly diverse. That Portugal is very different from industrialised Germany , or Ireland was very different from of course England until recently, or parts of France where highly industrialised parts of France were highly backward and if you like Eastern European - peasant societies, rural life, traditions, culture and so on. So the idea that there is a fixed Western Europe and a fixed Eastern Europe which are not only different today but always have been different is an untenable stereotype. What I'm after is diversity, showing how things, the kaleidoscope is constantly changing.
Well I remember the shock with which De Gaulle's remark that Europe was Europe from the Atlantic to the Urals was greeted, and you point out in your book that that remark was first produced by a Swedish officer working for the Russians in 1730. But it's still a teasing concept. I mean is your historians' message, without making that term too presumptuous on your behalf, but is your historians' message say to the politicians and the Eurocrats, that there is a political benefit to be gained from taking the large view of Europe, rather than trying to construct this very bureaucratic small Europe.
Definitely, I think that there are, in the introduction I talk of Europe as being three things, a continent, a geographical entity, a civilised ocean, and thirdly a utopia, political entity which people imagine which has never come into any full reality.
We're now at the latest stage of trying to create this European community and yet we forget all to often things that we have in common under the surface and tend to take these schematic political science views of whatever communist countries, or backward economies or whatever it is, and not see that in the past and in the consciousness of people, there's much more links than meet the eye. At the moment there is only one Orthodox country in the European union namely Greece .
But the Orthodox world is just as much part of Christendom, the first definition of European civilisation as anywhere else, and there are a number of Orthodox countries knocking at the door, not to mention of course Turkey, which has the same ambiguities as to which civilisation it belongs too as Russia does or indeed the United Kingdom does. Russia , United Kingdom and Turkey are the three candidates on the periphery of Europe which have very ambiguous relations with the European whole because of their imperial past and their extra-European connections.
You must say something about Russia because I know you have particular views about the way Russia behaved, and perhaps the way in which Western Europe although it confronted Russia as an enemy in the Cold War, also has something of a sort of soft conscience when it comes to things that the Russians did.
Yes, I think Russia is a very big problem simply because although it has thrown off Communism, it hasn't fully adopted a democratic system or a free market economy. My own view is that Russia is still an empire although the outer empire, i.e. the 14 Republics of the Soviet Union other than Russia have been shed, but the Russian Federation itself is still an empire.
I'm sorry, does that matter?
Well of course the behaviour of Russia toward Chechyna for example would not be tolerated by any other country except possibly China 's behaviour to Tibet , because these are colossal super powers against whom we can't intervene. So all our moral indignation is pointed at lesser targets like the Serbians in Kosovo about which we can do something. My own view is that Russia still needs to fall apart, to fall into its constituent pieces for it to be viable. The minute that real democracy was introduced in the present Russia and it would diverge, and of course the non-Russian parts of Russia would go away just as the non-Russian parts of the Soviet Union broke away, as soon as they were free to do so. And one has to say it has been quite surprising how the Soviet Union , the largest nuclear power in the world fell apart virtually without a shot being fired. I think very few people could have predicted that. And with one or two very unfortunate exceptions, whatever the war in Georgia and ..., the N... ... and the Armenian Azerbaijan, and of course Chechnya , there have been these flash points and extremely unpleasant, but nonetheless 14 of 15 Soviet Republics went there own way with very little violence, and that was something of a miracle.
Do you think that Russia will not be accommodatable into Europe until it's fallen about a bit more and as ... has discovered more democracy.
Absolutely, the present Russian Federation which is still the biggest country in the world, it's twice as big as the United States in terms of population, twice as big almost as any other European country, is simply not compatible with a community of small and middle-sized nations. But it's equally not compatible because of it's imperial tradition, it's continuing imperial attitudes because of its very limited democracy, its very halting economic progress and so on. I think if one returned to the old historic Russia , the European Russia, then there might be a future of Russia joining the European institutions, but until then, no. And if Russia doesn't disintegrate then Russia will in the 21st century be one of the large blocks within global politics alongside China and the United States, Europe and one or two others. It won't be, it
can't possibly be a member of the European Union.
Let's talk a bit more about writing and how you write. You've said that the book Europe was written on trains, in planes and canteens, hospital waiting rooms, in the back of other people's seminars, even in the crematorium car park, well does this mean that you have to be extremely adaptable as a historian if you are going to produce a long work of history.
Adaptable yes, what happens in my case is that I build up a head of steam, reading, planning, sketching things, and then when I get to the stage of writing it's like giving birth. You have to offload the pressure daily, in regular doses until finally the child is born. And once one is in that mould of high-pressure writing, it's not that you're forced to write in trains or planes, every time you have five minutes to spare, the pen automatically comes out and the next paragraph is written.
Is it the pen?
It is the pen. I write very reasonably on a computer but I find the screen, a big psychological barrier where I tend to stare at the screen instead of getting on with it. Whereas if I write with a pen on paper as I've always been used to then I can have it put on disc and edited on disc.
But what about correcting, after all you can't put down what you want to write absolutely clean without corrections, and correcting in pen on paper is very messy isn't it.
I think there's a certain discipline comes into play when you're writing by hand, as opposed to writing on screen where you know you can simply take out a block of sentences or words and change them around endlessly. And that I think tends towards sloppy writing because you know you can always correct it. If you feel that the final version with a few inaccuracies, a few things to polish has to come out through the nib of your pen at the first shot, then the effect is much more satisfactory.
That I think is where you as it were narrative flow comes from, that's where the emotional tension of what one rights comes from. I can't imagine writing with great style on a computer.
And the material, presumably you have card indexes in some way, but if you're writing under this sort of pressure, the need to unload, you are unloading what is in your mind, I mean you carry most of the material around in your head?
Most of the material is in my head, I have notes, I have sketches of what I'm going to write, quite often I write in, as it were, uncomfortable circumstances where I can't look up my notes, and will leave a blank whatever the name of some Swedish King that doesn't quite come to mind, or a date which escapes me at the time. But in order to press on, in order to keep the flow going yes, but generally speaking, the great majority of the information has to have been absorbed before you actually sit down.
And who is your ideal reader?
Oh, I don't know. Gold miner in Australia writing saying that he's picked up my history of Europe and he's thoroughly enjoying it or whatever.
But it's a general reader rather than a specialist, fellow historian.
Well both, I think for example a specialist historian, they'll say well Norman you've not made a bad attempt at whatever Louis the 14th, of course somebody who has spent 30 years studying Louis the 14th. But they then are very interested in what I write about, I don't know Ancient Greece or Armenia or something. So, no, I have found specialist colleagues quite generous and not as back-biting as some people have suggested. But it's also important to address the great mass audience of educated people who these days have a great hunger for history, they've been denied historical narrative in the last generation to a much greater extent than previous generations. I don't think my books are popularistic in the sense of easy to read for people who have no knowledge of history or of culture at all, but they don't require any specialist qualifications to sit down and tackle them.
And have you ever sat there writing with the words pouring out and a little voice says at the back of your head 'don't know why you're doing this Davies, history is dead, so what's the point?'
Fortunately I've not had that thought yet, I'm always under the impression that history is very alive and kicking and is very colourful, is very full of pathos, very painful, very, very joyous in episodes and anything but dead, yes, that's never even crossed my mind.
Well certainly when it comes to being alive and kicking and you came to write The Isles, not the British Isles for very good reasons, you have found yourself, and you must have known this was going to happen in the middle of this great debate about the nature of the national identities of the people who live in the British and the Irish Isles, I'm trying to use my terms as carefully as you do yourself. Was that why you wrote it because you were very dissatisfied with the anglocentric writing about the whole of these isles?
Indeed I have as a British citizen always had a running interest in the history of these islands, and I had developed a certain dissatisfaction with the subject through being a Professor in London University, for example, on sitting on the examination board, and seeing colleagues preparing questions on British History for the biggest history faculty in the United Kingdom, in which there would not be a single question about Scotland, not a single question about Wales. Four hundred or five hundred questions on British history of which 399 were about England . Nothing, absolutely no awareness that the history of Wales or the history of Scotland or the history of Ireland were of interest in themselves, and as it were deserving a similar respect and interest as English matters. So I think that's probably what got under my skin in the first place.
Well certainly a very topical experience and a very topical lesson, something which all politicians are having to debate, and I suppose the essential part of this discussion is that there's now a tendency to say well the Irish know who they are, the Scots seem to know who they are, and at least half the Welsh know who they are, but the English don't, or the English are saying that they don't. Why do you think that the English are finding it so hard to define themselves outside of all the other contexts in which they have existed politically and nationally for the x hundred years?
The English as the domination nation within the British mix have been schooled for longer than living memory certainly, to confuse their own identify, their own Englishness with general Britishness and of course with the imperial family. If you read Rudyard Kipling, he talks about the English garden but what he means is all the
little boys and girls right round the world whether they're in Australia or India or Gibraltar or wherever or in these isles who are part of what you would call the English family. One of the characteristics if you like of the imperial mission of the English which goes right back before the British empire , the English empire within the isles, was this sense of this special divine calling of the English, as opposed to the other lesser nations. This reached its height of course during the Empire where, as it were, the god given right of the British among whom the English were, they're usually called English in those days, even if you were Scots, - the divine mission of the English was accepted as part of the natural order. And because of this special position of the English as the dominant element within the imperial family they somehow lost the awareness of who they were, other than the rulers of this great Empire. So now it's gone of course they're extremely confused, and it's the depth of the confusion which I still can't understand, that there's, one meets you know highly educated people who don't know the difference between what is English and what is British.
We're talking about question of feeling, I mean I, of course am British because I was born in Czechoslovakia, and as a matter of fact I had an English education but otherwise I can't be English, I am British. So I know who I am pretty much. What are the English? Can you help them to say who they are?
Now you've stumped me haven't you. Who are the English?
I mean, are they particularly individualistic? Are they particularly sort of prone to standing up for principle? Are they particularly important in their contribution to democracy and the rule of law, and so on?
No, I don't think so. I had a wonderful letter the other day from my old head mistress in Bolton who reads my books with great care, and marks them as she used to mark my essays. And this is one point that I took up with her because she talked about Englishness as being connected with democracy and tolerance and courtesy. And I wrote back saying, well I think these are ideals which are cultivated though not always put into practice by the Albanians. What is particularly English about tolerance? The English are extremely intolerant for centuries, institutionalised intolerance against Catholics from the early 16th until the mid 19th century. Just to return to your question Englishness is something quite different from Britishness, Britishness is a legal concept, citizenship of the United Kingdom .
But it's rather inclusive, it's a rather generous term I think.
It's inclusive, yes. And there are a lot of people of course who although they may live in England think of themselves as rather British than English, most of the recent immigrants for example, think of themselves as the new British, they have a British passport. They identify very much with the cities where they live, whether it's Bradford or Manchester or wherever, but they don't think of themselves as English. It's as it were the remnants of the old English syndrome who look back to history, to English dominance of the other nations in the isles, who very often don't even notice that there are other nations in these isles. These are the people who set great storm by their Englishness as opposed to their Britishness.
What are you going to turn to now, I was going to see deconstruct, I don't know, well you probably have deconstructed the British Isles and the British identity? But what is the next subject you're itching to get your mind on?
I'm going to pay detailed attention to the Second World War. I'm not quite certain as of today which book about the Second World War might come first, but I've obviously had a long standing interest in the Second World War, and I feel very strongly that British and American attitudes to the Second World War are very skewed.
In what sense?
Well that we still don't grasp the enormity of the War especially in Europe, that we see it in simple black and white terms of as it were the forces of good fighting the forces of evil, the evil of ourse being centred in Hitler's Reich, and the others with varying degrees of accuracy fighting for truth, justice and democracy. Whereas the War in Europe I see as not a simple case of black versus white, but of two great evil powers, one the Third Reich fighting principally against the Soviet Union, and another great evil power which probably killed more people than Hitler's Reich did, and the Western powers being the third force but a third force which was markedly weaker than the other two. Seventy five per cent of German casualties occurred on the Eastern front.
Don't we know all this?
I think the facts of it are known, and books for example like Stalingrad which came out, Anthony Beavers, has done a lot as it were to bring some of the horrors of the War in Eastern Europe closer to the service, but this is not how the Second World War is interpreted. All the vocabulary is wrong. If we talk for example about collaboration which is a perjorative word, people who collaborate with evil powers if you like, its only applied to the people who collaborate with the fascist or with the
Do you think we collaborated with the Russians?
Well Churchill who was a great anti-Communist I think was aware that he was getting into bed with the devil. But many people weren't. I think a lot of Western opinion was extraordinarily apologetic for the Soviet Union . And what seems to me to have happened is that the Soviet view of events on the Eastern front has been accepted by most Western scholars, but a balanced framework, if you like, the Soviet camp, the fascist camp, and the Western camp contending with each other, has never really been properly painted. And moral attitudes to the Second World War is extremely skewed. Foe example the War Crimes Act of 1991, specifically defines a war crime as a crime committed by the Germans or on German occupied territory. That means that if during the War 25,000 allied officers were murdered by somebody other than the fascists, that is not a crime. And those mass murderers who are alive and well in Moscow are not only not being pursued nobody's even thinking of them.
I can see another book of attitude and imagination and controversy is already there half formed in your mind. We look forward to the result. Norman Davies thank you very much.
Thank you very much.
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