REAPPRAISAL : 1945 - the first Summer of Love

Was VE Day more 'liberating' than we suspected, asks Bruno Maddox
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The Independent Online
For the past few weeks an insidious little idea has been knocking around the student bars of Greater London: the real significance of VE Day to British history is that absolutely everyone had sex that night. Prudishness and imperialism had become so intertwined - runs the theory - that themoment Britain realised that despite its triumph it would never again rule the world, our moral standards collapsed into a single night of bacchanalian frenzy. If the older generation are genuinely so keen for us not to forget the events of 8 May 1945 they might as well just own up to the fact that VE Day marked the official start of the permissive society, a good 20 years earlier than we'd been led to believe.

The Sun's 12-page VE Day pull-out the other day finally put the whole question beyond debate. For every anecdote ending tastefully with a reunited couple hugging on their doorstep, there was another in which the protagonist absentmindedly went to a street party with no underwear on or passed out drunk in a public convenience.

And who can blame them? If the movies are to be believed, Britons had just endured six years of cramped, same-sex internment in shelters and POW camps, not to mention the vivid innuendoes of American GIs. You don't need the computing power of an Enigma machine to work out that as VE Day turned to VE Dusk, the shires of brave little England would have been rocked by a paroxysm stronger than anything the Germans could throw at them. The post-war era had begun, and hey, it was time to act modern.

Not for VE Day Brits the post-Cold War anxieties of Hans-Joachim Maaz, the prominent German psychotherapist, whose book Behind the Wall has made him the darling - if not indeed the first guest - of the east German talk-show circuit. Maaz wrote recently that the most distressing thing about reunification has been the east Germans' failure to regain full "genital maturity" after years of Communist repression. And this is surely the real triumph of VE Day. In what was essentially a dry run for the entire 1960s, our war heroes managed to put more than a century of sexual repression behind them, moving from a state of relative virginity to almost total genital maturity in the space of a few hours. Like the hippies and flower children whose trail they were blazing, however, their free-love paradise was destined to collapse - sometime around 5am, in a torrent of booze and recrimination. But by that time the genie was out of the bottle.

Imagine the mood on the streets the next morning, and you can fully understand why old people get all furtive and twinkly when referring to VE Day, mouthing the cryptic acronym as if there were still some tactical advantage that might accrue by hiding from the Germans the fact that they'd lost the war.

We twentysomethings need to know the truth about this. We've always been told that the Permissive Society had something to do with the Sixties, that it was simply another facet of youth culture - along with biker gangs and nose-rings - and that it was somehow Our Problem. If it turns out that sexual freedom did not gradually appear some time in the early Sixties, but was rather unleashed in a single erotic spasm in the late spring of 1945, the holier-than-thou hierarchy of the pre-and post-war generations is likely to be turned squarely upon its head.

If 1945 really was the first Summer of Love though, then surely this weekend's huge concerts in Hyde Park are the war generation's Woodstock 2: a time for healing and reminiscence. Perhaps we can all use it as a chance to stop blaming each other for Britain's moral decay, and remember the day we ceased to be the laughing stock of the sexually-active global community.

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