It can sometimes seem that the Second World War never stopped. Stephen Spender alluded recently in the London Review to the idea that it was simply a continuation of the First, but the 'Thirty Years' War' view of 20th-century history has in turn to accommodate some of the later continuities of which one is reminded by both Mordecai Richler's anthology and Ernestine Schlant and Thomas Rimer's collection of essays. There's the fact, among many other examples, that US air bases on Japanese territory, acquired at the end of the Second World War, were used against Vietnam. There is the durability of Central European anti-semitism. And now there is the war in Yugoslavia. Richler includes an extract from Waugh's Unconditional Surrender (under its bland American title The End of the Battle). No one today can read the novel's closing chapters without hearing a pre-echo of current catastrophes: 'Summer came swiftly and sweetly over the wooded hills and rich valleys of Northern Croatia. Bridges were down and the rails up on the little single-track railway-line that had once led from Begoy to Zagreb ... In one Mohammedan village the mosque had been burned by Ustachi in the first days of Croatian independence.'
LRB 6 August 1992 | PDF Download