SOME chicken! Some neck! Readers of a certain age or keen historians may recognise these four words. They came back to me during a recent stroll at Beachy Head. It was a magical day. Clear blue skies and jaw-dropping scenery, blessed with a fly-past by a lone Spitfire and an excellent pint in the garden of the Beachy Head Hotel.
Up around the highest point I found a stone nest which had been used by the Observer Corps during the war. Close by was a small plaque commemorating four Frenchmen who had crossed the Channel in a small boat to enlist and continue their fight against the Nazis.
‘Brave boys,’ I thought, and then after a moment, ‘but why only four? Why not 400 or 4,000?’
As primary school kids, my brother and I spent most of our pocket money on Airfix kits, primarily tanks and fighting vehicles. For countless hours we attempted to create realistic replicas, and for me this pastime segued into reading 20th-century military history. I soon learned that 1940 was a monumental year, especially for Europe and the United Kingdom.
For a child accustomed to peace, love and security, it was hard to imagine all the horrors and deprivations of nearly six long years of war, but my relatives in Nottingham had plenty of grim anecdotes to share. A common factor underpinning these accounts was: ‘At least we put up a fight.’ Far better to suffer and die battling for freedom than run away and capitulate, which was the essence of the policy adopted by the French in the spring of 1940.
Marshal Pétain, the future leader of the collaborationist Vichy French government, seemed convinced that it was folly to stand and fight against the military might of the rampant Nazi machine. Even on French soil. He stated publicly that in three weeks Britain would ‘have its neck wrung like a chicken’.
Pétain had of course failed to account for the English Channel, a small number of young RAF pilots and the sheer bloody-mindedness of the British. Once our island had been secured by the end of 1941, Churchill could not resist responding to the French jibe in customary style. Hence the famous quote.
I often thought about the long-term impact of the capitulation policy on the French soul. Given the cowardice of their generals and politicians, I wondered just how many French people were hoping that the British would suffer a bloody and humiliating subjugation under the jackboot. This to some extent might explain their shameful behaviour and just how few chose to sail quietly across the Channel to carry on the fight. And then in 1944, how galling it must have felt to be liberated by perfidious Albion: Brits who had stuck to their guns when the French army had thrown theirs aside. I concluded that the damage might take at least three generations to repair, until everyone alive at the time had passed.
Plenty of intriguing historical issues there, but why do I find all this relevant again today?
Because, I suspect, there are some very uncomfortable parallels with our own circumstances in what might loosely be termed the post-Covid World. In short, a majority led by the political elite abandoned all our treasured and hard-won freedoms and accepted brutal lockdowns as some kind of necessary public health policy. In early 2020, the Government knew full well that such a policy would be resisted by a significant minority of stubborn Brits.
These implications were summarised by Professor Neil Ferguson at the end of 2020: ‘We couldn’t get away with it in Europe, we thought . . . and then Italy did it. And we realised we could.’ Providing, of course, that the Government unleashed a multi-billion-pound media campaign designed to spread fear and terror across the land. Joseph Goebbels would have been thrilled with the work of Gove, Hancock, Whitty et al.
What I find truly depressing is how many millions of regular Brits bought into this fear-based agenda when all the hard evidence pointed to the fact that Covid is about as harmful as regular flu for the vast majority, especially children. Whatever happened to ‘keep calm and carry on’? For a certain type of old-school Brit, succumbing to panic is worse than death. Hysteria is generally best left to the Continentals because they do it so much better than us.
And whilst this revolting and hypocritical Government is beyond redemption, there was no excuse for any rational person to accept the fear-based propaganda at face value because, rather like the UK standing alone in 1940, there was an outlier in 2020 that refused to buckle to the insidious ‘there is no alternative’ lockdown narrative.
The Swedish nation proved beyond doubt that there was an alternative pandemic strategy. Their approach was to share information openly, protect the vulnerable and trust every individual to behave rationally and take whatever precautions were appropriate to their personal circumstances. Hardly rocket science: more like basic common sense.
Intrigued by the contrast, I journeyed to Sweden in September 2020 and like the four French boys in 1940 found a country still wedded to the ideals of personal freedoms. It was practically intoxicating. I returned to Stockholm a month later and afterwards wrote to my Tory MP offering to pay his air fare if only he would go and witness the alternative. But I suspect the icy tentacles of fear had him by the throat and he rarely ventured outdoors.
Now that we are past the Omicron hysteria and the cries of ‘Lockdown? Never again!’ reverberate ever louder, a theme explored incisively by James Delingpole in Monday’s TCW,
I fear it will take at least a generation before the stain of what the Government imposed, and we the people accepted, begins to dissipate.
I suspect there are still a significant minority of French people who would argue passionately that Pétain was correct in 1940; it was suicidal to try to fight the Nazis; capitulation was a triumph of Gallic pragmatism.
In a similar vein, I am confident that a significant proportion of British people will assert to their dying day that lockdowns were the only coherent policy during this ‘pandemic’. There was no alternative. Of course, many of these will be the civil servants, academics and white-collar public-sector workers who have enjoyed such a positive pandemic experience, working from home in their pyjamas, basking in the security of full pay, enviable pensions and no commuting.
For others, the passive acceptance of abject and irrational fear, cowardice if you like, is shameful and corrupting. Psychological recovery may take a long time.