There are two things to do in Guernsey that don’t necessarily involve getting “steaming” (drunk): hang out at the beach, or visit the various museums dotted around the island. The TripAdvisor top ten is full of museums: whether it is the Castle Cornet that boasts something like 8 museums for the £10 entry fee, the Underground Military Museum, or the Occupation Museum.

The “Occupation” Museum, was that?

Yes. The Channel Islands were the only part of the British Isles that were occupied by the Nazis during the Second World War. It may come as a surprise to you that any part of Britain was occupied, but that’s because schools don’t particularly want to advertise that ‘Our’ ‘Great’ ‘Nation’ conceded anything to the Germans. But it’s true, and visiting these museums is a unique experience in empathy.


The Underground Military Museum is inside an old military bunker built by the Germans early on in the 5 year occupation of the Bailiwick. It has what you might expect in any military museum: old weapons, uniforms, medals, and other various props and brick-a-brac from the time; and that’s all fine.

What really makes the reality of the occupation sink in is the displays of newspaper clippings and posters that would have been ubiquitous in the windows of shops and community centres, kindly making sure the islanders are aware of who their leaders are and the correct behaviour of fair citizens.

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These very real clippings bring about an appreciation for the fear the civilians must have felt being intimidated and threatened on a daily basis for nearly 5 years. Every time you would go to get milk, if there was any, you’d be reminded by a dispassionate piece of paper slapped on the wall that you are a grade below of a proper person; you’d feel like a prisoner in your own home, and on top of that terrified of being isolated, hurt or even killed for the slightest infraction.

This one is particularly frightening: the British Government’s statement on how and why they will de-militirise the islands and let them be invaded by the Nazis. Seeing this back in 1940, there must have been a great sense of abandonment and terror. Although the reasoning is sound, it doesn’t jive with the apparent truth that your own nation’s military is intended to defend you.


But after the shock wears off and you start to analyse these pieces rationally, they become vaguely familiar. Consider the poster that displays the drinking time rules. Clearly, the effect the museum’s curators are trying to elicit is shock that any regime could be so cruel as to limit drinking hours, especially so discriminatorily. “Imagine having to stop drinking at 10:30??”.

But this is not all that alien. In modern times, there is hardly a state that does not limit our freedoms when it comes to the consumption of alcohol. Whether it is the drinking hours, Sydney’s lock-out laws being the most striking example (Sydney bars in 2016 are allowed open a whole 2 hours later than occupied Guernsey in 1943), rules regarding the amount of booze you’re allowed to buy, or the varying ages you are allowed to consume alcohol, restricting people’s liberty when it comes to drink is not the reserve of invading totalitarian military states. And, of course, the US just before this time banned the sale of alcohol outright. Which is more shocking?


Poor Louis Berrier, whoever he was, whether he committed this “crime” or not, did he deserve to die for it? Appparently, in a time of war, “deserve” becomes less relevant. Morality and decency are lower priorities than the reality of warfare. If a guy sending a pigeon to Britain is at all threatening to the occupying regime, then the guy dies. It’s a cold, predatory point of view that rightly elicits horror to everyone that visits the museum.

But then, is there equal horror at the United States’ government’s attitude to Edward Snowden? It’s at least a reasonable postulate that Louis Berrier was sending the British military useful information on German movements. But Snowden merely informed the people of actions of government that violates their rights. It is true in a that such information released publicly may help terrorists, but consider the reaction: the establishment’s line is that Snowden must die for treason.

Treason, or espionage against an occupying force? Po-tay-to, po-tah-to.

“Ah, but James, the US government is not a foreign invader – it is looking out for American interests”. If you’ve read the title of this piece, and you’ve been following me up to this point, then you see where I’m going with this:

What is the difference between a foreign occupying force and the government you currently live under?

Answer: the language they speak.

When you’re a kid in Britain and you ask why there was a war, you will have likely heard the same answer from you parents or teachers: “because the Germans were bad people and wanted to rule England. If we didn’t fight them, you would be speaking German now”. And I’m not talking about a general point – you will hear those exact words: “you would be speaking German now”.

Why do they always say that? Surely there are other reasons why it would not be preferable to be occupied by the Germans other than the fact that you would be forced to learn a different language? Excuse my flippancy, but many of us would love to be able to speak German.

Some might respond by saying that Nazi Germany was a totalitarian state that massacred millions; we definitely wouldn’t want a government like that ruling us. First of all, you probably do have a government like that ruling you if it was one that dropped the bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. But sure, that is true – totalitarianism, irrational, vicious and economically catastrophic, necessitates genocide to keep the populace in line. Of course, it never works in the long run. All totalitarian regimes collapse eventually.

The regimes that are sustainable, once they have spilled enough blood initially to gain power in the occupied country, gradually release their hand and allow a modicum of freedom in the land. The colonisation of North America began with mass killing and destruction, but what followed was an extended period of relative lassie-faire and rights of personal freedom and property that empowered the people. This was small consolation for the Native Americans but it kept the invading force in power.

The reason why they always and only say “you’d be speaking German now” is that nobody can guarantee that life in the long run would not be that much different to normal. A successful German rule of Britain or America would require a prompt re-establishment of property rights and freedom of association. Sure, the new schools may indeed require German lessons, but this is hardly the most terrifying of prospects.

When we look at these posters again, we notice something else: “In case of peaceful surrender, the lives, property and liberty of peaceful people will be solemnly guaranteed”. This is by far the most shocking thing in the entire museum.

“Things will carry on as normal. You will be more or less left alone provided you do what we say and obey the ground rules. As long as you do not upset the regime, you will not be molested”.

Now, isn’t that exactly what your own government tells you?

Your state tells you that you are allowed to own your house, you are allowed to work for a living, you are allowed to own a business; but with that comes obligations on your part to do what it tells you to do. You are allowed to own your house, but you are not allowed to have substances within that house that the state doesn’t like. You are allowed to work for a living, but you must only work for a wage the state tells you you can earn. You are allowed to own a business, but you must make your products within a size and shape that the state decides. Oh, and whatever you do, do not question or interfere with anything the state does – the responsibility for your death would not be on the state. For this privilege, it will take half of your income and spend it on cocaine-fuelled congress parties, entire cities that nobody wants to live in, collateral for a dying currency, beer for fat lazy people, science experiments studying the running speed of Krill, and killing Syrian children.

“But James, my government is democratic, it has the right to enforce these rules and do these things that comes from the will of the people”

Right, so let’s say the occupying German force eventually allows Guernsey to hold an election on its leader, and the elected leader continues to enforce all of the rules on the posters that we all think are draconian – would this now be legitimate?

Nonsense. Your government is much of an occupying force as the Nazis were in Guernsey, Jersey, France and everywhere else that heinous regime touched, and it is just as heinous. The only difference between the two are the language it speaks, and maybe the colour of the uniform. The time is right to start being as equally outraged at it as you are with them.

One day, every country might have a “State Occupation Museum”, full of propaganda like “Support Our Troops”, “Think not of what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country”, “Alcohol-Free Zone”, “Amount due to the IRS stands at X”, and people will be shocked that anybody ever put up with it.