Its not only ethnonationalists who myth-make around the second world war – any idiot can make use of mass destruction for parable purposes.
One of the favourite tales of my kind of idiot was about saucepans. In 1940, the story goes, Lord Beaverbrook, the press baron turned minister of aircraft production, asked the homemakers of Britain to donate their pots and pans, because he needed aluminium for the war effort. Except that was not what he needed: what he needed was for everyone to take the war seriously and make peace with the depredations. This would be best achieved, he thought, by divesting everyone of their colander and spare omelette pan.
Yet the Imperial War Museum has photographic records of the government smelting some of the pans, so they were either so committed to this mind game that they were at Boris Johnson levels of mendacious time-wasting, or they did, in fact, need a load of metal in a hurry.
I feel the same scepticism about face masks: sure, the World Health Organization has come out in favour, medics have stopped fighting on Twitter and respectable opinion is coalescing on the matter, but I still feel as if I am being played – that this is more about the message than the virus. “I’m trying not to infect you.” “I’m also engaging in other healthy practices, such as hand-washing.” “I probably won’t wander unthinkingly into your body buffer zone.”
I want to be the kind of citizen who sends that kind of vibe to my compatriots, particularly the ones who don’t have a choice about being near me – people at checkouts, other passengers on buses. Plus, it is mandatory on buses in England (and, from tomorrow, Scotland) and I definitely don’t want to be the kind of citizen fighting a fine with a pedantic point about how large a virus particle is, or some lie about having a breathing problem.
However, nor do I want to be the kind of citizen who lives credulously by an orthodoxy they are more or less certain has an ulterior purpose. So, there is one path left, which is to go about in a face mask while signalling my ironic detachment, using only my eyes and the upper portion of my nose. On the upside, it has always been in the eyes, has it not? Noses have never been any good at signalling ironic detachment.