It’s easily done, I know, when you’re trying to convey the beauty of a two-way relationship, to remember that others may have been involved in the events that brought you closer. But when it’s the Second World War, these little lapses of memory are less forgivable.
In a moving article in The Times today (£), with a joint byline and double byline picture (same colour ties! Purple), David Cameron and Barack Obama describe the events of modern times in which the special relationship really mattered. ‘Together we defeated the Nazis’, they begin brightly (or, to be fair, whichever bloke from the Foreign Office/State Department cobbled this together). Fine. The US and Britain were indeed allies in the war, though it’s probably best to gloss over the bit at the outset when the US was not involved.
But it wasn’t just the US and Britain, was it? The collapse of the German war effort is impossible to conceive without considering the Soviet Union. Their military casualties in the war are conservatively put at about 10-13 million and the combined military and civilian casualties (and it makes sense to consider the two together in the battles of Stalingrad and Leningrad) at between 21 million and 28 million, though it’s all a bit complicated, what with deaths from famine and Soviet, ahem, population transfers. Whatever: an awful lot of people.
So, when the Brits and the Americans are next congratulating themselves on having brought down Hitler, maybe they could qualify it a bit and say: ‘Together we helped defeat the Nazis’. Not much to ask, really, but you can’t blame the Russians for getting worked up about these little lapses.