Join Date: May 2007
Best of Enemies: Britain and Germany - 100 Years of Truth and Lies
A good read, 17 Nov 2008 By Dr. J. R. King
Richard Milton writes with some feeling and the book's power reflects the anger he feels with the deceptions practised by the ruling classes. Like him I grew up believing all Germans are bad by definition, an assumption not dispelled until I visited the country in my 20's and found more of a natural bond with them than, say, the French. The book gets a little repetitive as the author clings stubbornly on to the idea that ordinary Britons did the right thing in fighting and killing our anglo saxon cousins, in spite of his own mounting evidence to the contrary. His views are also a little idiosyncratic at times, for example on the importance of Edward Bernays. Still, it's honestly written and well worth reading.
A fascinating study of a special relationship, 21 July 2008 By A Common Reader "Committed to reading" (Sussex, England)
Richard Milton describes the cross fertilisation of ideas between Britain and Germany and the ensuing propaganda wars that accompanied the conflicts of the last century. Milton describes the rise of public relations techniques in America and Britain, firstly in the world of advertising and later in political campaigns, eventually of course being adopted by Joseph Goebbells, the master Nazi propagandist.
Milton's main thesis in this book is how close were the links between the two nations, and which were only sundered at times of war. There has in fact always been considerable synergy of ideas between the two nations, unsurprisingly in view of England's Angle, Saxon and Jute past. During the 19th century in particular, relations between Britain and Germany were on a high. Each nation had considerable respect for the other, not least because of the Royal links, with Queen Victoria having wholly German blood in her veins, and the German Prince Albert being a visionary leader, and the inspiration behind much of the Great Exhibition of 1851.
It is interesting to read of the strong cultural and commercial links between the two countries at the time, with Siemens laying the underwater cables which made London the hub of the financial world, Julius Reuter setting up the the global news agency, and German brands such as Nivea, Osram, Agfa achieving market dominance. On the German side, the highest fashion was English, with its tweed jackets, monocles, and childrens' sailor suits. Interestingly, the Germans adopted the game of cricket and the Berlin Cricket Club was founded in 1883 and Germans took to the fields in whites.
Milton goes a long way to describe how fascist ideas rose across Europe as a response to the huge population growth in the 19th century. The ruling classes in Italy, France, Germany and America, threatened by democratic movements, sought to protect their dominance by adopting ideas which would be profoundly unacceptable today. Milton quotes many respected thinkers such as George Bernard Shaw, H G Wells, D H Lawrence and Thomas Huxley, who all to one degree or another saw the "masses" as a subject for control, never to be admitted to the corridors of power. Milton quote many "great names" in his quest to demonstrate the pervasiveness of discriminatory thinking, including even William Beveridge, the inspiration behind the National Health Service, who wrote in 1906, "Those men who through general defects are unable to fill such a whole place in industry, are to be recognised as "unemployable". They must become dependents of the State . . . but with complete loss of citizens' rights including not only the franchise, but civil freedoms and fatherhood".
Milton's theme leads naturally to the rise of eugenics, the idea that population-growth in certain sections of society needs to be controlled, across swathes of Europe and the New World. It is easily forgotten that it was not just Germany that used compulsory sterilisation of its minorities or "defectives", but also countries such as Australia and Sweden. In the USA between 1909 and the mid-sixties, some 60,000 people were compulsorily sterilised, many of them black and native American Indians, and in Sweden about the same number of "unfit" people were sterilised between 1935 and 1976. It is almost astonishing to read George Bernard Shaw in his preface to On the Rocks, writing "extermination must be put on a scientific basis if it is ever to be carried out humanely . . . if we desire a certain type of civilisation and culture we must exterminate the sort of people who do not fit into it".
Much of the book is given over to the use of public relations during the two World Wars, and how easily the governments were able to manage public opinion, particularly through the newspapers and cinema newsreels. However, Milton also notes that one of the findings of the "Mass Observation" movement (in which ordinary people kept diaries of the lives and thoughts) was that the British retained a healthy cynicism about what they read in the press and were far from wholly adopting the government line on the progress of the Second World War.
This book is rich in content and contains a substantial bibilography and index. The overall message will not be welcome among people who have a Churchillian view of Britain's history, but to those who are used to the dissembling of the era of "Blair's Wars" there will be more of a ring of truth in Milton's message. When it comes to truth, all nations are given to prevarication and sometimes a close study of contemporary documents can provide some very uncomfortable reading about our own role in some of the more obnoxious movements of the last century. This is a very readable book, illustrated with 16 pages of very interesting black and white photographs.