Friday, January 28, 2005


Auschwitz and the English

Despite my Scottish surname, my ethnic heritage is mainly English. Generally I'm not one to make much of a fuss about race and nationality and other such divisions, but if I'm perfectly honest with myself I have to admit to a certain sly pride in the old country, even a mild Anglophilia. From time to time I wonder if the Revolution was really such a good idea after all, and I fancy that if I were to move to Great Britain, I'd make a pretty fair Englishman. I like gloomy weather, and I wonder if that's in my genes.

I'm not above the odd twinge of ethnocentrism, either. As I understand it, the largest ethnicities in the Thirteen Colonies were English, Irish, German, and African-American, in that order; and now America is German, Irish, and English, in that order, with African-Americans and Hispanic-Americans more or less tied for fourth. The thought sometimes does cross my mind that maybe we'd be better off here if we were a bit more English, as we were in the old days. It's not that the English are any smarter, or that they pick better governments. It's just that they're...nicer. They seem so civilized. I don't mean to pick at a sore if you happen to be German, but as I watched the recent Auschwitz memorials on the television, a strange thought popped into my brain: can you imagine the English setting up Death Camps?

Oh, I know the English have never been kind to the Irish, and their soccer (a.k.a. football) fans should all be sent to sea in wooden ships. But an English Death camp would probably have doilies and alarming floral print wallpapering in all the cells, and little gardens out back. Camp guards would grimly force inmates to plant petunias. Instead of walls, there'd be hedges.

And of course no one would actually be killed, because such a thing would be just too dreadful. They'd never keep the project mum, either. As word got out, a woman's organization would spring up to defend inmates' rights, and complain should they be made to labor out in the damp. In the House of Commons, raucous debaters would point out how splendidly Australia turned out, and that perhaps if these lot in the camps were just left on an island someplace, in a few generations they'd be perfectly lovely people too. In no time, everyone would be playing croquet and having tea together.

Of course, I can't actually blame America's recent fascist bent on Germany, either. I live near Milwaukee, where German was the official language of the public schools until 1922. The best restaurants here all have German names. We have a radio station just for polkas. I know many people of German heritage who are utterly wonderful. I'm reminded of the old joke that Germans make the best Americans and the worst Germans; which might even be funny, except that many Americans these days aren't making very good Americans, either.

And if I did move to England, I'd probably get myself killed. Not on purpose, mind you, and not due to any kind of malice. I'm so absentminded I'm quite sure I would come to a curb deep in thought one day, look to the left, and step out directly in the path of a lorry.

And although I'm generally pretty good with English English, I can never remember what dogsbody means.

I guess I wouldn't make a very good Englishman after all.

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