Saturday, 26 November 2011

What about the wars where we did well?

This posting is prompted by yet another radio programme on the subject of the Second World War, this time on the resistance to the Nazi occupation of the Channel Islands. What surprised me was that it was shoehorned into "Open Country", nominally a countryside magazine programme, as if it had been necessary to accommodate overspill from more appropriate slots.

Television is even worse. On any day, there does not seem to be a page of the EPG which does not carry at least one title raking over the embers of World War II. To be sure, this mechanical recovery of the last scrap of material has thrown up some valuable stuff, like the long-overdue recognition on peak-time television of the key role played by Colossus and of Alan Turing. (By the way, we need a documentary on how in the 1950s and 1960s we ceded our lead in computing to the Americans. My favoured villains - surprise, surprise! - are the banks.)

But overall there is something rather sad about this preoccupation with "our finest hours". It's not as if Britain's record is immaculate. We could have prevented the Nazis gaining strength in Europe. We would have struggled to survive if it had not been for the American intervention; at best, we would have retained nominal independence as a client state of a German empire. It would have been a similar story in 1914-18.

This is a plea for a reduction in programmes about wars where we have been rescued by other nations or into which we have been dragged by the USA (e.g. Korea, Iraq, Afghanistan) usually to the detriment of our finances. It is a plea for two, at least, of our success stories to be brought to the attention of the present generation. There have been reassessments (e.g. here and here) of our defeat of the counter-insurgencies in Malaya and Brunei, suggesting that our motives were not pure and our conduct of the war was much less gentlemanly than the general public realised at the time. (In fact, the general public were told very little about Brunei.) But we fought these campaigns successfully without outside help, professionally and without leaving the large-scale local resentment which has marked Iraq and Afghanistan. Lessons about planning, and about winning hearts and minds, should have been learned by the Americans from British experiences in SE Asia.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I watched a programme on Turing; and his outlawed lifestyle. He was the Bill Gates of his day, and he was treated like dirt. Our scientist & engineers still have a low social status, being branded by the media as "boffins" rather that leading lights in their profession.

We do have a perception of war as being glamorous. It was only the English Channel that saved us from defeat in May/June 1940; along with the rumoured agreement, that Britain would join with Germany to defeat Russia if the BEF wasn't attacked on Dunkirk beach.