Princess Elizabeth’s Nazi Salute: Must We Know Everything?

Princess Elizabeth’s Nazi Salute: Must We Know Everything?

Stiff-arm salute: a public interest?

Screen shot 2015-07-18 at 11.49.13 AM(Updat­ed.) Claim­ing it was “his­tor­i­cal­ly rel­e­vant,” the Sun pub­lished a six-year-old Princess Eliz­a­beth, coached by her moth­er the future Queen Eliz­a­beth and her uncle the Prince of Wales (lat­er Edward VIII, still lat­er the Duke of Wind­sor) rais­ing her arm in the stiff salute now iden­ti­fied with the Nazi Par­ty. It was “in the pub­lic inter­est,” wailed the Sun.

It was in the inter­est of sell­ing news­pa­pers. Buck­ing­ham Palace responded:

Most peo­ple will see these pic­tures in their prop­er con­text and time. This is a fam­i­ly play­ing and momen­tar­i­ly ref­er­enc­ing a ges­ture many would have seen from con­tem­po­rary news reels. No one at that time had any sense how the salute would evolve. To imply any­thing else is mis­lead­ing and dis­hon­est. The Queen is around six years of age at the time and entire­ly inno­cent of attach­ing any mean­ing to these gestures.

saluteQuite so, and the stiff-armed salute last­ed even longer in Amer­i­ca, where school­child­ren used it in the Pledge of Alle­giance from 1892 until 1942, when Con­gress amend­ed the Flag Code. This was the so-called Bel­lamy Salute, con­ceived by the Chris­t­ian Social­ist Fran­cis Bel­lamy. Is this real­ly “his­tor­i­cal­ly relevant”?

I have a 1930s board game called “Diplo­ma­cy,” where play­ers pose as great pow­ers and build empires. Play­ers can choose the swasti­ka flag as their home base. It was endorsed by the Amer­i­can news­man H.V. Kaltenborn. (He was famous for declar­ing Dewey’s vic­to­ry in the 1948 elec­tion as soon as the “farm vote” came in.) Mean­ing­less trivia.

Purloined symbols

The Swasti­ka was long regard­ed as a sacred and aus­pi­cious Hin­du and Bud­dhist sym­bol, until it was adopt­ed by Hitler. The Con­fed­er­ate Bat­tle Flag rep­re­sent­ed South­ern val­or for many years before it was pur­loined by the Ku Klux Klan and oth­er assort­ed racists. Times and sym­bols change, and are done away with.
A friend and his­to­ri­an writes:

It’s not news that the then-Prince of Wales was emp­ty-head­ed enough to think Hitler & Co. were fas­ci­nat­ing rather than  fright­en­ing. He was not the only one to think that way in the 1930s. His fool­ish­ness con­tin­ued well into the war. The most ludi­crous exam­ple I know of is his mes­sage in 1940 to Pres­i­dent Roo­sevelt, ask­ing if the FDR might offer to medi­ate an end to the war. The Duke would pub­licly sup­port the offer, and said the Eng­lish would rise up in revolt, forc­ing a peace.

The Duke had sent his offer via the jour­nal­ist Ful­ton Oursler.  Pres­i­dent Roo­sevelt appar­ent­ly already knew of the pro­pos­al (which sug­gests that British intel­li­gence had been doing its job). He con­temp­tu­ous­ly com­ment­ed: “When lit­tle Wind­sor says he doesn’t think there should be a rev­o­lu­tion in Ger­many, I tell you, Ful­ton, I would rather have April’s [Oursler’s teenage daugh­ter] opin­ion on that than his.” 
The Duke of Wind­sor has much to answer for at the bar of his­to­ry.  As Churchill said in the Fifties, reflect­ing on his defense of Wind­sor dur­ing the Abdi­ca­tion cri­sis: “I’m glad I was wrong. We could not have had a bet­ter King [George VI]. And now we have this splen­did Queen.”
Her Majesty Queen Eliz­abath II spent a life­time of devot­ed ser­vice in peace and war. She and her moth­er, whose biog­ra­ph­er says nev­er exhib­it­ed one iota of Nazi sympathies—deserved bet­ter at the hands of the 24/7 media and their dig­i­tal organ grinders.

2 thoughts on “Princess Elizabeth’s Nazi Salute: Must We Know Everything?

  1. It’s always nice to see his­tor­i­cal per­spec­tive, com­mon sense, and respect for Queen Eliz­a­beth II. Thank you. To the best of my knowl­edge the salute in ques­tion goes back to ancient Rome. “Hail, Cae­sar” mor­phed in the twist­ed mind of an untal­ent­ed painter. When this non-sto­ry broke, the tabloids, anti-monar­chists, and hys­ter­ics all ignored Eng­lish humour. Deflat­ing self-impor­tance by mock­ery and laugh­ter for­tu­nate­ly seems to be part of British DNA: on the Home Front and abroad it helped keep us fight­ing. It was com­plete­ly nor­mal at that time for peo­ple to satir­i­cal­ly mim­ic ges­tures anti­thet­i­cal to every­thing British. To out­siders it can some­times seem strange, but it works, and if edi­tors and snowflakes had to see their own home films and pho­tos from the era plas­tered every­where they’d be in for a few sur­pris­es. Thank you again for this excel­lent web­site. Your hard work is very much appreciated.

  2. For me Queen Eliz­a­beth II will always be the most com­plete and com­petant British monarch. I respect­ed and cared for her for her entire reign. When I became a Cana­di­an cit­i­zen and served in Canada’s armed forces, I pledged my alle­giance to her. This inci­dent with the salute must sim­ply be dismissed.

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