The Queen’s Nazi salute shows how fragile our liberty has always been

by Sam Fowles 

History is power. Control of history means control of the political battleground. If we remembered how often the powerful have betrayed the principles for which they claim to stand, we may be less inclined to meekly accede to their wishes.

I’m sure the young Princess Elizabeth had no idea what she was doing when she performed the Nazi salute but members of her family (and other leading Establishment figures) did. As a nation, we suffer from collective amnesia concerning the rise of Hitler. In some cases we have even used pop culture to re-write history. In “The Kings Speech” the royal family are depicted voicing their concern to Timothy Spall’s Churchill in the early thirties. Something that, all reliable accounts suggest, absolutely did not happen.

History isn’t inevitable. We are not swept along on an unstoppable tide of events. History is determined by the actions of individuals. The depression, German politics, the repercussions of the Versailles Treaty all played a part in the rise of Hitler. But so did the contribution if the British Establishment. The European elites supported Hitler because they saw him as a better alternative than a left wing party. In the UK Conservative MPs organised in groups like the January Club to promote Hitler’s politics in the UK (even after Kristallnacht). After Germany invaded Czechoslovakia the Bank of England facilitated the transfer of its sovereign wealth fund to the Nazis. The Royal family’s censors prevented plays criticising Hitler from showing on the London stage as late as 1939.

One of the most significant supporters of Nazism was Prince Edward, later the Duke of Windsor, who appears in the footage released by the Sun. Recent evidence suggests that Edward passed information to Nazi agents including the suggestion that London should be bombed. He did this while a serving officer in the Grenadier Guards. He was assisted by other aristocrats such as the Countess of Athlone. Yet Edward was never court martialled. He was never tried for treason. Would an ordinary citizen, perhaps one of the many killed by the bombing that Edward supported, have received the same leniency?

Historians can’t ascertain the full extent of Edward’s antics because Buckingham Palace refuses to open its archives. But isn’t this fair? Surely it isn’t right to open a private family archive? Surely the Queen should not be castigated for belonging to the same family as Edward? But the Queen isn’t an ordinary citizen. Her entire claim to her position is that she belongs to the same family as Edward. Hereditary monarchy demands that we, as a nation, pay for certain individuals to live a life of unimaginable wealth and privilege because they belong to a certain family. The unspoken assumption must be that this family is somehow special. As such we have a right to know the extent of that family’s support for one of the most murderous regimes in history. The current royals seem happy to accept the benefits their kinship with Edward. We, as a nation, have a right know if that family is unworthy of our respect, let alone our servility.

But there is also a wider point at stake. Hitler often seems like a special case, unique. References to the Nazis often seem somewhat hysterical. But this is a fallacy. Hitler is not unique. Right wing parties regularly blame imagined “internal enemies” for a nation’s woes (as Hitler blamed the Jews). Many move on to persecute them. Politicians regularly inflate the perception of a threat in order to enhance their own power  at the expense of our liberty. Hitler may have been the extreme end of the spectrum. But he is not in a class of his own.

We, as a nation, need to understand the support our Establishment gave to the Nazis. We need to understand the steps they took to help them to power and we need to ask why. We cannot do that if the royal family continues to cover up their relatives’ involvement.

As I write this, my government is preparing to remove access to the European Convention on Human Rights (created to ensure Europe never again suffered the scourge of totalitarianism). Hundreds of people are interned in camps, without trial, for the crime of not being British. My Prime Minister has declared that he will punish “extremism” even when no law has been broken and, according to the police force he oversees, this could mean student protest, climate change activists and campaigners for racial equality. My government is determined to read my private communications even when I am not suspected of breaking a law. If I join a group that peacefully opposes such things I run the risk of being monitored by undercover police.

We need to remember the Nazis and we need to remember just how many of our “betters” may have happily seen Hitler in Whitehall. We need to remember because liberty is fragile and the road to hell is paved with our own choices.

Sam Fowles is a researcher in International Law and Politics at Queen Mary, University of London and the University if Sydney. He blogs for the Huffington Post and tweets at @SamFowles

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5 Responses to “The Queen’s Nazi salute shows how fragile our liberty has always been”

  1. cjcjc says:

    We are just ONE (GOOSE)STEP AWAY from Nazism!!
    You are Mike Godwin and I claim my £5!
    Though may we also recall the establishment Stalinists while we are about it?

  2. John P Reid says:

    Mosley Labour Party member, supported Hitler,and the queen was 6 years old
    Then there was Nichael foot,who stood on a manifesto in 1935 to disarm us,did nothing in the war and criticized Appeasers,who didn’t know about the holocaust,but….knew that 15 million French died in the First World War

    And then there’s calling people fascist, because David Blunketts time at the home office wants racist was it, oh wait…

  3. Tafia says:

    What sort of third rate f**kwit is Sam Fowles? This salute was done sometime around 1934 – when the horrors of Hitlers Nazis were yet to become common knowledge and the salute was routinely used – most of the time in fun, by large numbers of people.

    Have a look at the 1936 Olympics with all the teams and medal winners giving the nazi salute, have a look at this photo of the England team doing the Nazi salute ( ) in 1938 four years AFTER the then young Princess Elizabeth and less than a year before the war. remember that every politician that visited Berlin in an official capacity gave the nazi salute (and the rather amusing Heil Boothby anecdote).

    I’m no royalist – quite the opposite. I can’rt stand the leeching parasites, but Sam Fowles is a c**t that can’t seem to sort out historical reality and context.

    Everyone who came into contact with the them German government in any official capacity whatsoever was expected to and gave the nazi salute – it was the polite thing to do. Even British veterans from World War 1 gave it in meeting German veterans.

    And we are nowhere near being a nazi countrty – absolutely nowhere near so stop behaving like Violet Elizabeth and thcweeming and thcweeming until you are thick. And there’s even debate as to whether the nazis were right wing – the reality is they were neither right nor left, they proved that the political line of far-laft-left-centre-right-far right is infact a circle and that the gap between far left and far right is less than the gap between them and the centre. Have you eve met any Nazis? proper ones? I have – I’ve actually fought in the street against them in Oldham, Blackburn and Burnley – and I’m not talking jokes like the BNP or the NF either, I’m talking C18, ITP and groups like WNP.

  4. John P Reid says:

    Tafia, best post on labour uncut e et.

  5. tim says:

    @ Tafia:
    “they proved that the political line of far-laft-left-centre-right-far right is infact a circle and that the gap between far left and far right is less than the gap between them and the centre.”

    Seems like you have a better grasp of how the world works than most people involved in day to day politics…

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