Posts Tagged ‘Max Hastings’

Counterpunch Demolishes Some Churchillian Myths

December 8, 2017

There’s a very interesting piece by Louis Proyect over at this weekend’s Counterpunch, The Churchillian Myths of 1940, where he takes a well-observed aim at two of the recent films about the Second World War. One is Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk, the other is the forthcoming biopic about Winston Churchill’s battle against the appeasers in the British cabinet in 1940, The Darkest Hour. This hasn’t been released yet, and is set to come out on December 21st (2017). It stars Gary Oldman as Churchill, and is directed by Joe Wright.

Dunkirk’s already attracted much criticism because of its historical inaccuracies. I think it’s been accused of racism, because it ignores the large numbers of the British forces, who were Black and Asian. But Proyect also draws on a critique of the film by Max Hastings of the Telegraph to show how the film presents a very mythical view of Dunkirk. The film has it that the British troops are under constant shooting and bombardment by the Germans, and that they are saved by the flotilla of small vessels that went over there to rescue them. In fact, according to Hastings, the Germans largely left the retreating British alone. As for being saved by the small ships, 2/3 of the troops were rescued by the fleet of big ships that were sent by the navy. There were 37 of these, but six were sunk. Proyect also criticises a scene where the sailors aboard a sinking ship discuss how they are going to get to the surface without being mown down by the Germans. He compares this unfavourably to the Poseidon Adventure, producing the quotes by the critics to show that this is actually a far superior film.

More serious is the way the film deliberately omits atrocities committed on the civilian population by the retreating British. Proyect states that at the time the British squaddies were under immense physical and psychological stress. They responded by shooting anyone that moved, including old women and nuns. This is historical fact. Proyect cites and describes one of these incidents. The trooper had been told to take no prisoners, except for interrogation, and so blazed away accordingly.

As for the Darkest Hour, Proyect draws on an article by Clive Ponting on the Churchill Myth. Older readers of this blog will remember that Ponting was the civil servant Maggie tried to prosecute under the Official Secrets Act because he leaked two documents about the sinking of the Belgrano to the Labour MP Tam Dalyell. Ponting was acquitted, because the jury weren’t about to be told what to do by Maggie.

He points out that in fact the difference of opinion between Churchill and the appeasers, like Lord Halifax and Neville Chamberlain, was actually much smaller than most people realised. At the time, Churchill was in favour of making peace with Germany, and had sent feelers out to see what their terms were. Where he differed from Halifax and Chamberlain was that they were in favour of making an immediate peace, while he wanted to fight on for a few more months.

The film does show Churchill hesitating at one point, and Proyect states that this would have been unthinkable a few years ago, as the official archives were still closed and the only source material available were Churchill’s own self-aggrandising writings. In which he portrayed himself as the resolute warrior.

But this ignores just how pro-Nazi Churchill had been, as well as anti-Semitic. What! Churchill pro-Nazi? The very idea! But he was. In 1937 Churchill wrote of Hitler

Those who have met Herr Hitler face to face in public business or on social terms,” he said, “have found a highly competent, cool, well-informed functionary with an agreeable manner, a disarming smile, and few have been unaffected by a subtle personal magnetism.” Despite the arming of Germany and the hounding of the Jews, “we may yet live to see Hitler a gentler figure in a happier age,” Churchill wrote. He was doubtful, though.

As for Leon Trotsky, Churchill reviled him with all manner abuse, not just because he was a Bolshevik, but also because Trotsky was Jewish. He quotes Nicholson Baker’s Human Smoke, a revision history attacking the notion of World War II as ‘the good war’, from which he also took the above quote about Hitler from Churchill. Baker writes

Churchill also included a short piece on Leon Trotsky, king in exile of international bolshevism. Trotsky was a usurper and tyrant, Churchill said. He was a cancer bacillus, he was a “skin of malice,” washed up on the shores of Mexico. Trotsky possessed, said Churchill, “the organizing command of a Carnot, the cold detached intelligence of a Machiavelli, the mob oratory of a Cleon, the ferocity of Jack the Ripper, the toughness of Titus Oates.”

And in the end what was Trotsky? Who was he? “He was a Jew,” wrote Churchill with finality. “He was still a Jew. Nothing could get over that.” He called his article “Leon Trotsky, Alias Bronstein.”

https://www.counterpunch.org/2017/12/08/the-churchillian-myths-of-1940/

I am not surprised by Proyect’s description of Churchill’s highly equivocal attitude to Nazi Germany. Churchill himself was very authoritarian. He had visited Mussolini’s Italy, though he had not been impressed when the Duce compared the Blackshirts to the Black and Tans, and privately remarked that Musso was ‘a swine’. But he did like General Franco. The historian Martin Pugh, in his book on British Fascism between the Wars, states that Churchill’s opposition to Nazi Germany did not come from any deep ideological view, but simply because he was bitterly suspicious of Germany and believed that it would block British interests in the North Sea. Pugh points out that he didn’t seem concerned that a bloc of Fascist states in southern Europe could do the same to British interests in the Mediterranean.

It would be interesting to know what Peter Hitchens thinks of all this. Hitchens is deeply Conservative, but he is a fierce critic of the Second World War as ‘the good war’, and has absolutely no love of Churchill. Indeed, in his book taking aim at New Atheism a few years ago, The Rage Against God, he attacked the cult of Churchill as a kind of ersatz religion, put in place of Christianity. It’s a bit of stretch, as it wasn’t quite an exercising in God-building that the Soviets tried. In the former USSR there was a brief movement after the Revolution to create a kind of atheistic religion, centred around great revolutionary heroes, to harness religious sentiments for the cause of Communism. The cult around Churchill isn’t quite like that. But nevertheless, to some Churchill is almost a sacrosanct figure, against whom you must not utter a single word. You can’t, after all, imagine Dan Snow on the One Show, striding around what remains of Churchill’s office and papers, telling the world how ‘Winnie’ at one time looked approvingly on Hitler and was very nearly ready to make peace. Or that, when it suited him, he was viciously anti-Semitic.

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My Cartoon of the Tories and the Barclay Twins

June 15, 2017

As I said in an earlier post, a few years ago when Cameron and Clegg were in power, I started making a series of satirical drawings to express my own utter repugnance towards the Conservatives and their policies. These were the policies that May is following today, which are forcing millions into near starvation and misery, and which have killed tens of thousands of people already. I put up one of those, of Paul Dacre, the editor of the Daily Mail, and his idol, Margaret Thatcher, the other day.

This time it’s my cartoon of the owners of the Torygraph, the Barclay Twins, surrounded by Max Hastings, the newspaper’s former editor, David Cameron, George Osborne and someone else, who I really can’t remember at the moment. I saw the twins as this bizarre mutant, like something created through one of the nastier genetic experiments in Science Fiction, surrounded by various other horrors.

The Bad Man Blog: Q & A with Comics Legend Pat Mills

October 3, 2016

Borag Thungg again, Earthlets! Pat Mills, one of the Britain’s leading comics creators, and the script robot behind the Nemesis the Warlock, ABC Warriors, DeFoe, and Slaine strips in 2000 AD, and the classic Charley’s War in Battle, as well as Marshal Law, is featured in The Bad Man Blog in an entry for the 5th April this year, in which he answers 10 questions. The Bad Man introduces him with the words

If you want to know where the edge in modern comic books comes from, whether that be the inception of DC’s 80’s Vertigo line, the Image creator evolution of the 90’s, right on up to the Indie Artist ripe market-place, vying for a spot amongst the giants in modernity, then perhaps turn your head back to the late 70’s and the birth of 2000AD.

2000 AD Creator Pat Mills wanted to write working class comic books that shook the establishment and reached out to an angry youth with a subversive message that spoke to them through sci-fantasy. He succeeded with a revolution in British comic book storytelling that’s been oft imitated but never replicated.

Mills talks about the difficulty of writing for a disenfranchised generation, both then and now, without sounding too preachy or ‘David Icke’, and his regret that he couldn’t hit the establishment harder. He talks about how his opposition to the establishment was a product of his upbringing, and particularly his experience with the Roman Catholic Church and the Masons. He gives advice to budding comic creators, and lists the writers, who have been the biggest influence on his writing. Among literary giants like Wilkie Collins, Graham Greene, Dennis Wheatley and Rider Haggard, and modern crusading journalists and polemicists like John Pilger, he also includes Geoffrey Willans and Ronald Searle for the Molesworth Books, and for Searle’s St. Trinian’s cartoons. In answer to the question of what motivates him to write, he states that it’s a kind of catharsis and a way through strips like Slaine to explore his own psychology. And he also states that its a way of paying tribute to his heroes, like the Levellers. He continues

Defoe is a Leveller – they were great men who schools deliberately do not teach kids about because they stood for freedom. If the Levellers had won it wouldn’t be Charles 1 alone on the scaffold. They’d have got rid of all privilege. And there’d be no Charles 111. How our country allows an idiot with a disturbing, troubled and suspicious private life to take the throne of Britain is beyond me.

He also urges aspiring comics artists and writers to take up social activism and issues in their work, saying

Challenge society, change society, widen perspectives outside the mental straitjacket the media would put us in. E.G. By acknowledging Britain was probably one of the most evil Empires the world has ever known (and it’s still pretty dirty when you look at Iraq and Syria,) it sets us free. It’s not self-flagellation, it’s actually taking pride in the true Britain of characters like Defoe and the Levellers, soldiers like Charley in Charley’s War, wild Celts like Slaine and so on.

He discusses more history you don’t and won’t read about in answer to the Bad Man’s question of what he would do if he could go back in time. Mills’ answer is straightforward: Shoot Lord Milner. He explains that Milner was part of a conspiracy that started the First World War. He states that Belgium was in a secret alliance with Britain and France at the time, and it’s only in Britain that we’ve been taught otherwise. Mills goes on to explain that E. Morel, who exposed the Congo atrocities, also revealed Milner’s role in igniting the War, but his work is simply dismissed as ‘wrong’ by historians today. He recommends that for further information people should read McGregor’s Hidden History, which is available online, Milner’s Second War, and E. Morel’s pamphlets. He explains

If Milner had been assassinated, in 1912, it could have just stopped Armageddon and opportunist characters like Churchill and Lloyd George might never have come to power with the terrible consequences for the people of 1914 – 1918 and beyond. With some areas of history, I’m still a student, but I’ve been studying WW1 since I was a kid and there is no doubt Britain was responsible.

Not something you’re likely to read about in school books or the mainstream media where Max Hastings and Paxman reign supreme, alas. As you can see, I feel strongly about this because we owe it to our ancestors that the truth gets out there. Not the ‘noble sacrifice’ bullshit of Cameron and co. The WW1 generation of young soldiers were murdered by the British establishment in conjunction with other forces, notably the bankers and merchants of death.

He ends the session by talking about the strips he’s working on at the moment.

See: https://therealbadman.wordpress.com/tag/nemesis-the-warlock/

Mills clearly has some very controversial opinions, especially about the Roman Catholic church, and that Britain is occupying Northern Ireland. That clearly isn’t the way the Loyalist community see it. Nevertheless, regardless of his views on the legitimacy of British rule in Northern Ireland, he is absolutely right about there having been a ‘dirty war’ there. Lobster has published a series of articles discussing the collaboration of the British state with loyalist paramilitaries in containing the IRA, and how secret SAS units were embedded in regular army units to assassinate leading Nationalists.

As for the Roman Catholic church, unfortunately he is right in that there is a problem with corruption in Vatican and the Church hierarchy, and this has left many Roman Catholics feeling betrayed. The many scandals around the world about child abuse by priests and clergy has led to many believers leaving the Church, particularly in Ireland and in Germany. Many German Roman Catholics left because of the last pope’s perceived reluctance or inability to tackle the issue and make proper reparations.

Mills also makes a very good statement about the misuse of power in local communities, when he says that in the small town where he grew up, everyone in power knew everyone else, and used their power in very negative ways. Dad and others had the same experience of the power of the local business community in Taunton, and the same abuse of social and economic position and authority still continues in Britain today.

It would be very interesting indeed to read and hear more about Britain’s responsibility for causing the First World War. This is not a view I’ve ever heard before. Quite the opposite. Just about all the historians I’ve ever read have blamed the Germans and Austrians. German historians argue in contrast that the War broke out almost as an inevitable accident, brought about through the web of alliances and the extremely volatile nature of the Balkans. Together, these caused the nations of Europe to ‘drift to war’. The German view, from what I’ve read, is not only rejected by British historians, but seen as something peculiar to Germany. It seems to me that it’s implied in British historians’ criticism of the German view of the origins of the War that the Germans are somehow trying to exculpate themselves from their responsibility for starting it. After reading Mills’ brief statements about the issue, the conventional historical view of German culpability no longer seems at all certain.

His is an extreme view, but that doesn’t mean he’s wrong. And he’s right about contemporary historiography of the war, at least at the popular level, being dominated by establishment figures like Max Hastings, the former editor of the Telegraph, and Jeremy Paxman. I like Paxo, and think he did a good job when he was on Newsnight, at least of irritating the Tories. But that doesn’t mean he’s telling the truth as an historian. Indeed, Private Eye a few weeks ago pointed out the many mistakes he was making in his latest excursion into literary history. He was trying to argue that a number of literary genres were in fact the creation of British writers in the 19th century. One of these was detective fiction. In fact, the first detective novel is usually considered to be Edgar Allan Poe’s The Mysteries of the Rue Morgue. Mind you, as with so many things, it can also be argued that the Chinese got there first. The Chinese also independently developed the novel, including tales of detection featuring Judge Dee. A number of these were translated by Van Lustgarten, who also wrote a story of his own using the character. So perhaps Paxo probably isn’t the most reliable guide either to literary history, or that of the Great War.

And as extreme as his view is, I don’t think it should be immediately dismissed because of the care Mills took in researching his stories. Charley’s War is a classic because it movingly portrays the reality of the War for the ordinary Tommy, and I’ve no doubt Mills did considerable research when writing the strip and subsequently after. He has said in another interview, a few years ago, how he broke with the traditional, very low view of comic writing when he started on 2000 AD. It was an SF comic, so he bought four books on science to research the subject, and invoiced IPC for expenses. Which left them shocked with the idea that anyone should do something as basic as that. Clearly, 2000 AD and its characters are Science Fiction and Fantasy, not fact, and in many cases very obviously are far from conventional scientific or historical fact. But the fact that Mills is prepared to research carefully the background of the strips he writes does make me wonder whether he’s right about this issue as well. But go and read what he says for yourselves, and make your own minds up.

Splundig Vur Thrigg!, as Old Green Bonce would say.

BBC 2 On Why Britain Voted Against Churchill after WW II

May 25, 2015

BBC 2 at 9.00 O’clock tonight is showing a documentary on how Britain rejected Churchill for the Labour party in the 1945 general election.

The blurbs for it in the Radio Times state

Surprise election results are nothing new. As this documentary explores, a few weeks after celebrating VE Day in 1945, Britons went to the polls for the first general election in a decade. The Conservatives were widely expected to win, a grateful nation rewarding Winston Churchill’s wartime leadership. Instead, Labour won by a landslide and set about creating the Socialist welfare system Churchill had warned against.

As historians relate, there were good reasons the electorate delivered a humiliating snub to their wartime hero. And we’ve forgotten how unpopular he was with sections of the public: striking footage shows crowds jeering a perplexed Churchill at Walthamstow stadium. “Most people saw him as a Boris Johnson-type figure,” claims one contributor. “A buffoon.”

And

Just weeks after VE Day, Winston Churchill went to the polls confident that the nation would reward him for his leadership through the dark days of the Second World War and re-elect him prime minister. In the event, he suffered a humiliating defeat by Labour under Clement Atlee. Historians including Max Hastings, Juliet Gardiner and Antony Beevor explore what prompted the nation to reject its great war leader in such vehement fashion.

This will no doubt annoy the Churchill family, who have been effectively living off the great man’s legacy since the War. They got very stroppy a few months ago with Paxo, for daring to state that Churchill was not some kind omniscient, super competent superman.

In fact, Churchill was and still is bitterly despised by certain sections of the working class, despite his status as the great hero of World War II. His own career in the armed forces effectively ended with the debacles of the battle of Jutland and he was widely blamed for Gallipolli. He fervently hated the trade unions and anything that smacked of socialism and the welfare state. Originally a Liberal, he crossed the floor to join the Tories when Balfour’s government introduced pensions and state medical insurance based on the model of contemporary Germany. ‘It was Socialism by the backdoor’, he spluttered.

This continued after the War, when he fiercely attacked Labour’s plan to set up the NHS and unemployment benefit. Because the latter meant that the state become involved in the payment of NI contributions by the employer, he denounced it as a ‘Gestapo for England.’

He is widely credited with sending in the army to shoot down striking miners in Newport. According to the historians I’ve read, he didn’t. Nevertheless, this is still widely believed. It’s credible, because Churchill did have an extremely aggressive and intolerant attitude towards strikes. During the 1924 General Strike he embarrassed the Tory administration by stating that the armed forces would stand ready to assist the civil authorities, if they were called to do so. This effectively meant that he was ready to send the troops in. When it was suggested that he could be found a position in the Post Office, the then Prime Minister, Stanley Baldwin, readily agreed on the grounds that it would keep him out of the way. The hope was that without Churchill’s militant intransigence, the Strike could be settled peacefully.

And despite the mythology of the country uniting under a common foe during the War years, there was still considerable working class disaffection. Indeed, according to one programme, there were more strikes during the War than hitherto. I don’t find this remotely surprising, given that the sheer requirements of running a war economy meant rationing, shortages and, I’ve no doubt, the introduction of strict labour discipline.

Nor was Churchill a particularly staunch supporter of democracy and opponent of Fascism. Orwell wrote in one of his newspaper pieces that the spectre of war was doing strange things, like making Churchill run around pretending to be a democrat. According to the historian of British Fascism, Martin Pugh, Churchill was an authoritarian, who actually quite liked Franco and his brutal suppression of the Republicans in the Spanish Civil War. His opposition to the Nazis came not from a desire to defend democracy from tyranny – in that respect, Eden was a far better and more convinced anti-Fascist – but from the fear that a re-armed and militarised Germany would be a danger to British power and commercial shipping in the North Sea and the Baltic. He did, however, have the decency to consider privately that Mussolini was ‘a swine’, and was not impressed when the Duce declared that his Black Shirts were ‘like your Black and Tans’ when he visited Fascist Italy.

The British working class therefore had every reason to reject Churchill and his reactionary views after the War. And scepticism towards Churchill and his legacy was not confined merely to the working class. Nearly two decades later in the 1960s Private Eye satirised him as ‘the greatest dying Englishman’, and attacked him for betraying every cause he joined. Churchill was all for a united Europe, for example, a fact that might surprise some supporters of UKIP. He just didn’t want Britain to join it.

Even now there are those on the Right, who still resent him. Peter Hitchens, the arch-Tory columnist for the Daily Mail, has frequently attacked Churchill for bringing Britain into the War. His reason for this seems to be his belief that if we hadn’t gone to War against the Axis, we’d still have an Empire by now. This is moot, at best. Writing in the 1930s about a review of Black soldiers in Algiers or Morocco, Orwell stated that what was on the mind of every one of the White officers observing them was the thought ‘How long can we go on fooling these people?’ Orwell came to Socialism through his anti-imperialism, and so represents a particularly radical point of view. Nevertheless, he wasn’t the only one. When the British authorities set up the various commercial and industrial structures to exploit Uganda and the mineral wealth of east Africa, Lord Lugard cynically stated that they now had all the infrastructure in place to pillage the country for a few decades before independence. Despite Hitchens’ nostalgia and wishful thinking for the glories of a vanished empire, my guess is that many, perhaps most of the imperial administrators and bureaucrats out there knew it was only a matter of time before the British Empire went the way of Rome and Tyre.

In his book attacking atheism, The Rage Against God, Hitchens also attacks the veneration of Churchill as a kind of ersatz, state-sponsored secular religious cult. It’s an extreme view, but he’s got a point. Sociologists of religion, like Clifford Geertz, have a identified the existence of a ‘civil religion’, alongside more normal, obvious forms of religion, like Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism or Hinduism, for example. This civil religion is the complex of beliefs and values that shapes civil society as a whole. In America, this is a belief in democracy, centred around a veneration of the Constitution. In Britain, you can see this complex of beliefs centring around parliament, the Crown, and also the complex of ceremonies commemorating the First and Second World Wars. Including Churchill.

The programme looks like it could be an interesting counterargument to the myth of Churchill as the consummate politician, the great champion of British freedom and democracy. He deserves every respect for his staunch opposition to the Nazis, regardless of the precise reason for doing so, and his A History of the English-Speaking Peoples is one of the main texts that have created the belief that the British are uniquely freedom-loving. Nevertheless, he was also deeply flawed with some deeply despicable authoritarian attitudes. AS the blurbs for the programme point out, the British were quite right to vote him out at the post-War elections.