17 Days Remaining

Thursday 10th
posted by Morning Star in Features

Perpetuating falsehood and myths about the history of Britain only sustains delusions about its ‘grandeur’ and feeds xenophobia and racism, writes BERNIE EVANS

THE day after possibly the worst day in British military history, July 1 1916, the News of the World reported that the “day went well.”

Twenty thousand British soldiers had been mown down in the first hour of the Battle of the Somme. As a recent Star Comment mentioned, it was the wartime prime minister, Lloyd George, who insisted the people at home “can’t know” the awful truth (Morning Star August 1).

The trouble is the British people have not only been fed lies about events during wars, they have not even been told the whole truth about the country being at war in the first place. A list of British military engagements in the same editorial lacked completeness with Vietnam and Oman notable absentees.

An argument can be made for remembering the courage and bravery of soldiers, as happened recently with the men from both sides who fought at Passchendaele 100 years ago, but there is a danger that, if wars are only remembered for bravery, little will be learned.

People need to be reminded of the politicians’ mistakes which caused the wars, the nationalism which was glorified through education and which was embraced by the politicians, the atrocities which all sides committed, the appalling weapons and tactics of mass destruction which were used and the misinformation which is always fed to the public to justify all wars. How many British people have ever been told, or have even heard of, the fact that poisonous gas, or to use its modern description, chemical weapons, were used against the Germans in the first world war?

Indeed, wasn’t it a certain Winston Churchill who insisted on keeping these weapons for further use in the Middle East? Commemorations, like films, often perpetuate myths, rather than destroy them.

The film to see this summer is, apparently, Dunkirk, but even this focuses on bravery, fellowship and courage rather than historical accuracy.

Nigel Farage has endorsed it, for goodness sake, for all “youngsters” to watch. The film ignores, for example, the fact that Britain had the backing of a global empire and was never standing “alone,” and omits any acknowledgement of the roles both of the Royal Indian Army Services Corps, who were on the beach and moving supplies, and the sailors from south-east Asia and India who were on the British merchant vessels.

French colonial troops at Dunkirk were conspicuous only by their absence and apart from one crowd scene white faces predominate. How is this country ever going to come to terms with the truth of its past if its major blockbusting films insist on historical inaccuracy?

Books which do trim away some of the layers of mythology that permeate our history are available, however, for summer reading — people who read them cannot fail to realise how the distorted and manipulated version of our past plays far too important role in today’s society.

Britain’s “burning of the historical evidence” — recounted in Ian Cobain’s book The History Thieves: Secrets, Lies and the Shaping of a Modern Nation — was done for the same reason. Special Operations Executive records on its “incompetence” over failing to protect its agents in France during WWII “disappeared in a fire,” as told in Last Hope Island: Britain, Occcupied Europe and the Brotherhood That Helped Turn the Tide of War, by Lynne Olson.

The conspiracy to indoctrinate British people to believe that this country has a glorious past, to be remembered with “fondness and respect,” and superior to all others, is shameful and still continues.

Another book, The Fear and the Freedom: How the Second World War Changed Us, by Keith Lowe, sets out to dispel a number of enduring myths. Using the experiences of those who lived through the conflict, Lowe refutes the idea that, while all nazis were evil, the allies’ moral purity won the day.

Similarly, the belief, as most propaganda tells us, that it was essentially a European war is dispelled, with very effective evidence from, in particular, Sam King, a Jamaica-born RAF veteran.

Let’s hope not only that the books become best-sellers, but that they start a trend for accurate history-telling.

Britain’s so-called “glorious past” actually refers to a time when the country’s wealth was created by the slave trade, piracy and looting, while native populations existed in a state of servitude. Atrocities and extreme acts of barbarity by British troops ensured little or no resistance.

If we are ever to accept the veracity of our past — if Germany can, it should be possible here — three changes have to be made.

First, journalists and writers generally must stop referring to the past in such terms as “Britain’s imperial glories” and her “buccaneering spirit,” as they engender unhelpful images, and can contribute to ridiculous ideas about racial superiority.

Second, the vast archive of over 1.2 million files, which governments keep hidden from the prying eyes of historians at Hanslope Park must be handed over to the National Archives at Kew and third, the Department for Education has to insist on the teaching of accuracy whenever British history is delivered — with less reliance on so-called “facts” and more on analysis and evaluation of evidence.

Until all established beliefs about Britain’s past are thrown into question and the truth revealed and accepted, there is little chance of reducing the bigotry which permeates our society.