A gun to the head

Mar 04


1 Responses


Helen Whitten

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A gun to the head

Can you imagine what it was like to live under Nazi occupation? To have every word and action observed by a hostile enemy with their own ideas of what is right and what is wrong?  To be unable to be sure what might happen tomorrow, whether the business one has built up with such love and hard work will continue to exist? Whether one’s loved ones are safe or not?

This is being brought home to me as I watch Apple’s excellent series The New Look, set during the German occupation of Paris, from June 1940-August 1944.  The main players in the series so far (I’m on episode 4), are Coco Chanel and Christian Dior, uprooted from their very sophisticated and luxurious lifestyles, their alliances challenged, the betrayals, large and small, pulling them in one direction or another.

It makes me think about Eastern Ukraine and what the Ukrainians are fighting for and what other European countries should be seriously preparing for in terms of protecting their ways of life from Putin’s ambitions. We have become complacent.  We thought that war was a thing of the past, that the human race had reached a point beyond violence, a point where we discussed things rather than fought with armies for territory, religion or ideology.  We were wrong and we need to wake up to the fact that we have to pull together against a bully like Putin.

It is over eighty years since the UK was under threat from invasion in World War II, nearly 400 years since our civil war, some 900+ years since the Norman Invasion. We had thought ourselves safe on our island, the sea and our fleet protecting us.  But we are less likely to be protected from cyber or drone attack.  Do we have the metal to defend ourselves, I wondered, as I watched how the citizens of Paris divided into those who joined the Resistance, those in denial, those who collaborated with the Nazis.

We cannot know how we would respond in such dire circumstances. We cannot know if we would betray a friend or colleague’s name were we to be tortured.  We cannot know if we would take the last loaf even if our nextdoor neighbour’s child was elbowing us in the queue.  As Christian Dior says in this series “war is chaos. All you think about is survival.”

I hope we never have to experience these situations.  Hope with all my heart that we don’t, but my parents and grandparents generations had to fight for what they believed in and I was reflecting that the one way we can empathise with them and with the Ukrainians who are having to live at the end of the barrel of a gun, is to really consider and identify what it is we care about.  Would we fight for our home, our religion, our justice system, our values, for our way of life, even if we are not naturally British by blood but live here? Would we fight for our country and its values and freedoms?  What is it that you value and care about here?

It’s not such a crazy thought – we know Putin will not stop if he wins over Ukraine and he has many more troops than we do, for sure. As I cover in my novel No Lemons in Moscow the West thought that Russia in the 1990s was turning towards us yet how wrong we were. And, as Alexei Navalny’s widow is pointing out today, how little successive governments have done to complain about what happened to Navalny or to Vladimir Kara-Murza when they were locked up, or, indeed, to stop the stream of Russians who set up homes here to protect their money – as my character, Eve, in the novel benefits from as an interior designer.  Look at Iran, it was a country where women were free to uncover their hair until the Ayatollah came into power.  Someone was talking on the radio this morning about living in North Korea where everything one says or does is monitored and there are no freedoms. Technology makes this all the more possible.

I was joking with some friends the other day that it will be “Dad’s/Grandparents’ Army” who go out to fight if we are ever under threat as it seems that younger generations are struggling with their mental health and find simply being in a room with someone who says something they don’t like can set off a panic attack.  I am not without compassion – I have panic attacks too in certain circumstances and we need to equip these young people with the skills and resilience tools to manage life more easily.  But right now I can’t see them putting themselves forward to protect our country should the need arise, in the way our grandfathers did.

In order to make ourselves stronger in the face of the Putins and bullies of the world we need to identify what it is we care about in this country – is it freedom of speech, public libraries, state schools, the NHS, cricket, our democracy, our justice system, our welfare system, our creativity, our entrepreneurs, our neighbours, our homes, our gentle countryside, our pubs, our sport, our churches and religious buildings, our diversity, our music, our art, our national treasures, our constitutional monarchy, our access to incredible theatre, ballet, concerts, castles, museums, city parks, the freedom our girls and women have to excel and contribute to our society, our acceptance of differences of many kinds?  Remember, nowhere else is perfect, every country has some racism, some prejudice, some poverty and inequality, so don’t underestimate these things because what you don’t notice you can lose.  It does help to read more about other countries in order to get the context and perspective of what we enjoy here.

Watch The New Look on Apple if you can, or read Irene Nemirovsky’s Suite Francaise or other books to see how quickly life can change – look at how Eastern Ukraine and the world was surprised by Putin’s army despite the warning flags.  Start to consider what you value about this country because there’s nothing that Putin likes better than that we are weak and divided. Let’s not give him the satisfaction of achieving such division.


One Response

  1. Thanks for a practical reminder Helen. There’s an increasing number of articles on this very subject. Also reguests for more money to be spent on arms. We spend amazing sums on helping other countries when our own country desperately needs funds for so many things. I find it really alarming.

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