HM’s Nazi Salute: Relevant to What?

HM’s Nazi Salute: Relevant to What?

In the Inter­net Age, Must We Know Every­thing?

Screen shot 2015-07-18 at 11.49.13 AMClaim­ing it is “his­tor­i­cal­ly rel­e­vant,” the Sun is defend­ing pub­li­ca­tion of 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. But it’s “in the pub­lic inter­est,” wails the Sun.

It’s 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 it 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.

Students_pledging_allegiance_to_the_American_flag_with_the_Bellamy_salute
The Bel­lamy Saute (1892-1942)

Quite 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, and you can choose the swasti­ka flag as your home base. It was endorsed by Amer­i­can news­man H.V. Kaltenborn. (He was more famous for declar­ing Dewey’s vic­to­ry in the 1948 elec­tion as soon as the “farm vote” came in.)
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.
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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 1933-34. 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, thus forc­ing a peace. The Pres­i­dent respond­ed to that by call­ing him “Lit­tle Wind­sor.”

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”…
 
…a Queen who has spent a life­time of devot­ed ser­vice in peace and war. She and her moth­er, whose biog­ra­ph­er says nev­er exhib­it­ed one iota of Nazi sympathies—deserve bet­ter at the hands of the 24/7 media and their dig­i­tal organ grinders.
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N.B. His­to­ri­an Andrew Roberts offers a thought­ful per­spec­tive on BBC4.

 

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