Magazine article The Spectator

Diary: Andrew Marr

Magazine article The Spectator

Diary: Andrew Marr

Article excerpt

No, no, no, you don't want a house abroad -- the paperwork, the taxes, the piping, the cost of the pool. What you want are good, kind, generous friends with houses abroad. That's what we've enjoyed this summer, meeting scores of interesting new people and being looked after by our best friends. We pay them back with wine, little presents and London hospitality. The only downside to 'les vacances ligging' is having to book extra seats home on Ryanair for our vastly swollen and moaning livers.

The most striking thing we did in France was to visit Oradour-sur-Glane, the Limousin village where on 10 June 1944 a Panzer division of the SS massacred 642 men, women and children as a reprisal operation against the Resistance. The 'village martyr ' has been preserved exactly as it was: de Gaulle ordered a new village to be built alongside. On a bakingly hot August day, we joined hundreds of tourists silently walking the roofless streets of what was once an idyllic little town. What takes the air out of your lungs is the familiarity and specificity of the place -- the boulangerie, the postbox, the tram rails; the garage where men were rounded up and machine-gunned; still with its metal signs for petrol; the rusted hulks of Citroëns in the street. The worst place of all is the church where the women and children were killed with hand grenades and by shooting and burning. It's an exquisite medieval building, minus its roof; inside, the bullet holes are everywhere, and there's a mangled and burned children's buggy and a fresh, warm sense of horror. The names of the officers and soldiers who committed the atrocity are all known and listed in the Memorial Centre. Some were French, from Alsace, and the whole country was divided about what happened.

Seventy years later -- and by eavesdropping I know I wasn't the only one thinking this -- in another part of the world, strutting young men are behaving in almost exactly the same way, though with even greater cruelty. And they're doing it for a surprisingly similar reason: a fanatical belief in purity. Once large numbers of people are convinced that there is one route to human felicity, whether it's Aryan racial purity or extreme Sunni purity, massacres and sadism follow. Yes, I know there are other factors, from obedience to fear and the natural cruelty of young men in gangs. …

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