One of our best-loved Catholic novelists, Evelyn Waugh, once wrote about 1945 as "the drab and sour period of victory".
In his partially autobiographical World War Two trilogy, the final volume is entitled Unconditional Surrender.
Waugh himself (and his creation Guy Crouchback) at first saw that war as a Crusade; with Hitlerite Germany in alliance with Stalinist Russia, how could the battle against the pair of them be other than romantically heroic? We were up against the combined Modern World in all its horror.
In his 1946 Scott-King's Modern Europe, the experience of a dim, passed-over schoolmaster is: "[A]s the face of Europe coarsened and the war, as it appeared in the common-room newspapers and the common-room wireless, cast its heoic and chivalrous disguise and became a sweaty tug-of-war between teams of indistinguishable louts ...".
Waugh was not a pacifist. Indeed, the degree of his personal courage under fire was sometimes regarded as inappropriate by colleagues who did not share it. After the War, his military duties obliged him to be complicit in the decidedly non-Catholic policies of Marshal Tito in Yugoslavia, as it persecuted Catholic clergy and mistreated Jews. His own profound disillusionment became the basis of his post-war fictional writing.
When I was very small, I somehow got my hands on a romantic account of the Finnish war with the Soviet Union. Heroic, courageous Finns, ski-born, descended through the soundless snows upon the Russian aggressor. How could one not be moved by their exploits? How I hungered to read more about their successes ... about their inevitable and deserved triumph, elegant Davids against such a monstrous Goliath ...
It was quite a few years before I discovered what really happened.
When we found ourselves allied with Uncle Jo Stalin, we (I mean, this 'United Kingdom') ... yes ... we declared war on plucky little Finland.
I think one of Waugh's finest pieces of oblique and symbolist writing concerns the Sword of Stalingrad, a piece of metalwork given by George VI to Stalin to commemorate his military prowess, and exhibited like a sacred relic in Westminster Abbey before it made its journey Eastwards.
The heraldry on the scabbard was upside down.