The uses of the past

World War II doesn’t seem to have much relevance in today’s Europe. Oh sure, Hitler’s Germany provides European leftists with a useful way of describing Israel. But otherwise the whole thing might just as well never have happened, what with Europe so united and its former liberator now a “hyperpower” that represents the major threat to world peace, other than the aforementioned Israel.
How rude, then, that Ruud van Nistelrooy, a star of the Dutch national soccer team, would raise the subject of World War II on the eve on the European Championship soccer match between Holland and Germany. The Manchester United striker said that the war would provide his team wih motivation to defeat the Germans in tomorrow’s match. He explained that “this is not just about football history [of which there is plenty between the two nations], it is about real history and what went on 60 years ago,” an impolite reference to the fact that Germany occupied the Netherlands for five years. According to ESPN’s Soccernet Van Nistelrooy’s comments “struck a nerve in Germany, eager to put its Nazi past behind it.”
Sometimes for better, sometimes for worse, football (soccer) seems to be the last bastion of nationalism in Europe. For that reason, and also because of the act of memory involved, I was happy to read of Van Nistelrooy’s remarks. And I will certainly be pulling for Holland tomorrow and (with the possible exception of France) everyone else who plays Germany.


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