FIGHTERS: Black soldiers were on the frontline in World War II
I CONSIDER myself extremely lucky to have been in the audience for the Black History Walks lecture on how black people helped win World War II (held at the Imperial War Museum).
It was an absolutely excellent lecture and presentation and unearthed lots and lots of things I (and possibly most people) did not have a clue happened.
From raw materials to millions of soldiers to front line battalions, the contribution of black people to the war effort was vast and undeniably decisive. But somehow it is largely unknown.
I’ve long had many questions about black participation in the World Wars and the legacy of this involvement ever since. For example, I always tend to argue that had the horrors of Nazi Germany been inflicted exclusively on, say, pretty much any population in Africa at the time they would not now be remembered as horrors.
Don’t believe me?
The horrors inflicted on Africa by the likes of England, France, Belgium and company are not remembered as horrors.
They are largely whitewashed by history – some even defend these atrocities. There are no moments of silence for the horrors of colonialism and slavery.
World War II was indeed a righteous war to fight. But I’m always left wondering what it would feel like to fight in order to save my oppressor from oppression.
Why would, for instance, a historically-aware, politically-savvy Jamaican man who has been subjected to inter-generational oppression by the British feel the need to fight for Britain?
Many say that the fate that awaited black people at the hands of a Nazi-led global German empire would have been worse than what people of African descent were subjected to under the British, which is, of course, likely to be true.
But it still leaves one wondering what it would feel like being immersed in the horrors of war with the clear knowledge that winning the fight is not likely to make your life any better. It is a bizarre paradox that luckily most of us will never have to face.
Compounding this issue is the fact that after the war, the contributions and efforts of black people were totally written out of history. And I mean totally. Until this day the average Briton, black, brown or white, probably couldn’t construct as much as a paragraph on the involvement of black and brown people in the wars.
I have my doubts that this is coincidental. Ethnic contributions to the wars could indeed be included in the history curriculum tomorrow morning and it would be both informative and fascinating. Somehow, I can’t see Michael Gove jumping on this idea.
The French ensured that black faces were not seen participating in victory marches through Paris. This is a fairly well publicised historical fact. Yet, everyone else has done exactly what the French did but on a much larger scale ever since.
All of these factors and many more leave me wondering how we should remember World War II (in particular). Conventional wisdom suggests that fighting for the Allies against Hitler was the right thing to do.
Indeed, the people who did fight were heroes and should be remembered as such.
However, today we celebrate those that objected to the Iraq and Vietnam wars and indeed we praise Dianne Abbot for stopping the Syrian war in its tracks (a feat which probably lost her a position in frontline politics for good).
But given everything that happened and has happened ever since, should the black people who objected to fighting for the Allies also be remembered as courageous and shrewd heroes?