Wednesday, May 19, 2010

VE-Day: For Whom the Bell Tolls

One final tribute to V-E Day: a bell (dia.: 115 mm.), created as a fundraiser for the RAF Benevolent Society, and manufactured of aluminum taken from downed German aircraft. The handle bears the Churchillian "V for Victory." On the sides of the bell, the faces of the wartime Allied leaders: Churchill, Roosevelt, and Stalin (though Truman of course succeeded Roosevelt in the final days of the War, and Atlee replaced Churchill between V-E Day and V-J Day).

• Minor excurses:

1) Given the material and production technique, the bell has a clear ring but limited resonance (among small recent antique bells, the one that to my mind has the most sonorous ring and intriguing story is the famous Saignelegier bell of 1878 and its imitators [1, 2, 3] ; but I digress).

2) It would be intriguing to study the fate of memorabilia and other items made of recycled World War II aircraft. My parents had suitcases made from the metal of destroyed Luftwaffe planes.

3) Given the lack of historical knowledge today, I am always both amused and exasperated when I come across news reports that describe Palestinian protesters or "fighters" making the "V" sign with their fingers but explain the gesture as a "peace sign." Sorry, folks, no 1960s hippies here. It is of course the "V" of victory (as these pieces [1, 2 ] correctly state). Wishful thinking or just plain ignorance?

• Historical-philosophical reflections:

To see and hear this bell is to mourn a necessary war but one made unavoidable by past miscalculations and cowardice. When England and France betrayed their ally Czechoslovakia at Munich in 1938, they arguably deprived the world of the last best chance to stop fascist aggression in its tracks. The Czechoslovaks were ready and able to fight, but England told them that if they did not give in to Hitler's demands, it would hold them responsible for the outbreak of a war and offer no assistance.

František Halas expressed the national tragedy in a once-famous poem:
The bell of treason is tolling
Whose hand made it swing?
Sweet France
Proud Albion
And we loved them
Not only is it false that war is sometimes not the answer. Sometimes, there are worse things than war.

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