December 1942 was a significant month in England’s experience of the Second World War. It was the month during which the truly demonic nature of fascism became undeniable. In France, the Germans had occupied the zone previously run by the Vichy government, and there was much discussion about why a collaborationist government had not been able to maintain its fiction of independence. One of the French fascists, Marcel Buchard, said it was because the French government had not yet fully embraced the fascist way of life, and put it in these terms: ‘The national revolution [ie the change from enemy to ally of Germany] had not been acceptable to the people, and it would not be acceptable until it became truly pitiless, ferocious… fascist without any mental reservation whatsoever, and frankly brutal if need be’. In addition, it was the month when the Allies realised that Hitler was not just anti-semitic, but had adopted a policy of ‘extermination’ of the Jewish people—during that December the word was used by the Archbishop of Canterbury (pleading for allied governments to give asylum to any Jews who could escape occupied Europe), the Russian and American ambassadors to Britain, and the British Foreign Secretary. The World Jewish Congress estimated that two million Jews had already been murdered.

At the other end of the spectrum, it was also the month in which the Beveridge Report was published, recommending that a complete social security system be set up after the war, including old age pensions, family allowances, and free health care for all—the ‘new Jerusalem’ policy described in Corelli Barnett‘s histories. The optimism that inspired this policy even inspired the hope that the old Jerusalem would have a bright future when peace came: ‘the Hearth of Three Faiths’, wrote a correspondent for The Times, ‘should be a centre of a world community realising spiritual as well as economic and social union.’ As we now know, a new Jerusalem would not be built in England’s green and pleasant land, and the old Jerusalem would become a place of deeper hatreds than ever.

It’s easy to understand why those who thought they were seeing hell becoming a reality on earth believed that heaven might become a reality on earth too, once the powers of evil had been conquered. It is also interesting to reflect that if the real heaven is beyond the ability of earthly governments to imitate, so is the real hell. It will be as much worse than the concentration camps as the real heaven will be better than Britain’s National Health Service.