To the victors, the spoils?

May 5, 1995

As the nation prepares to mark VE Day, The THES asked a group of historians born after the war to describe the significance of the events of 50 years ago for Britain today.

"In terms of British and European history the war is the major turning point in 20th-century history. I don't agree with those who say the economic trends of British decline are predetermined. Much of this decline can be attributed to the war. Britain had to fight a war that it could not afford and became increasingly dependent on the United States."

Zweininger-Bargielowska did her doctorate on the postwar nationalisation of the coal industry and subsequently worked on wartime and postwar food policy. "Housewives and the household economy received a great deal of attention, with concern about 'the war in the kitchen' and whether families were being properly fed on rations. It became a major focus for home propaganda. It was hardly a feminist approach, but it reflects a change in attitude to women in general."

Having spent her youth in Germany, she is struck by the contrast in attitudes and emphasis. "You hardly spend a week in Britain without reading some reference to the war. It is incredibly pervasive, perhaps because it is seen as a 'finest hour' that Britain has not afterwards been able to live up to. In Germany it is much less pervasive and very different, seen as a grim and shameful discontinuity whereas Britain sees it as part of a continuity. It is undoubtedly still there, part of a historical legacy people still live with and must accept, but references are invariably sombre".

Ina Zweininger-Bargielowska, 33, is a lecturer in history at the University of Wales, Aberystwyth.

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