For you Tommy, the war is never over
By Alex Ogg
Punk & Post Punk 2.3
By the time the punk era was underway, the Second World War had ended nearly a quarter of a century ago, yet it still remained fresh in minds of the British population, as visual reminders such as bombsites were hard to avoid in cities throughout the country. As the older generations talked and reminisced the young had their hands on war paraphernalia. Whether this was in the shape of Airfix models, comic books or action figures, toys, literature and other remnants were abundant in the decades following the war, which reached new heights of availability and popularity during the 1970s.
Ogg, in his article For you Tommy, the war is never over, looks at the impact such cultural materials and aesthetics of World War Two had on the British punk movement and the influence they had on ‘impressionable male minds’ (Ogg 2013). In exploring the reasons behind these questions Ogg obtains first hand accounts from interviews with musicians, music producers and others involved in the punk scene.
One thing that becomes apparent from the interviews is that those who embraced the punk ideal would have been directly impacted by the events of WWII. From growing up in bomb damaged cities, with bombsites for playgrounds, to the economic hangover that Britain struggled to get over, the old and young alike found it difficult to move on. As TV celebrity Phil Jupitus, who was a regular fixture at punk gigs under the monocle of Porky the Poet, said
My grandparents and parents would talk about the war and rationing. The Second World War was at the forefront of our culture. I can still tell you the names of tanks. I had a terrible affliction of being obsessed with war. (Wittlinger 2007)
Britain was so encapsulated by the war’s legacy that, upon reflecting on his time as the then German Ambassador, Thomas Matussek commented that Britain was ‘obsessed with WWII’.
It struck me as rather odd that I was constantly confronted in newspapers, radio and television, with lots of material about the Nazi period and the Second World War. (The Telegraph 2005)
The extent of this obsession continued into the early 2000’s as Matussek’s brother quit his London correspondent position due to the UK’s ever-increasing interest in the Third Reich.
Specifically, there was a high amount of Nazi symbolism being used in the punk movement that, rather unsurprisingly, went on to upset a lot of people. Notable figures like band members Sid Vicious and Siouxsie Sioux were often seen brandishing Nazi symbols. As the American music journalist, Lester Bangs, points out
Swastikas in punk are basically another way for kids to get a rise out of their parents and maybe the press, both of whom deserve the irritation. (1979)
It took a long time for Britain to get over the war. In some ways the children of post-war Britain helped to preserve the nation’s interest in the war, and it has now been argued that too much has been forgotten by the younger generation of today. With relation to the punk scene together with the youth of Britain both embraced the war and all its materials and visual elements for very similar purposes. Amongst numerous other statements, punk used the imagery for fun. Whilst maintaining an anti-war mentality this movement was most definitely anti-authoritarian, and they hit the repressive old generation where it could hurt and cause the biggest stir. As Russ Bestlely points out in the same issue of Punk & Post Punk,
…punk was never at a loss for a humorous aside, no matter how grim the subject matter. (Ogg, 2013)
To read the essay in full, click here
Wittinger, Ruth (2007), ‘British-German Relations and Collective Memory’, German Politics & Society, 25: 3, pp. 42-69(28)