Empty words25 March 2017
There’ll be a better way of summing up what follows than the title I chose, but it’ll do. I’m referring to the monologue Andrew Neil delivered a couple of nights ago, a bunch of words strung together to invoke national pride on our past, and which was subsequently described as, well, read the article here:
“‘Churchillian!’ Viewers hail Andrew Neil’s INCREDIBLE monologue on Westminster attack”. (from The Daily Express newspaper, 2017-03-24.)
I happen to like Andrew Neil. His no-nonsense approach to interviewing sits well with me. His sarcasm, always it seems tinged with an impish glee upon finding a politician wanting, fits my needs far better than the always-annoyed Jeremy Paxman ever did, he doesn’t needlessly interrupt his guests as they’re answering his questions as does Andrew Marr. But his monologues irritate me. They always go on a bit too long, and always keep me from why I watch his late-night programme: to learn what’s going on in the world of politics.
Before I continue, I haven’t watched this edition of his show, I’m relying on the Daily Telegraph’s editors to show me a full picture of what transpired on the night. Yeah…
The key phrases from Mr Neil are:
“Do you have any idea who you’re dealing with? This is the country that stood up alone to the might of the Luftwaffe, air force of the greatest evil mankind has ever known. If you think we’re going to be cowed by some pathetic, Poundland terrorist in an estate car with a knife, then you’re as delusional as you are malevolent.”
Fine words that would have made sense in an era vastly-different from the one in which we live, an era in which it was easy to spot the source of terror, the evil across a tiny stretch of water known as the English Channel.
Fine words which conveniently ignore the fact that this isn’t the 1940’s.
During those times, and in general terms only, the only loose parallel I can make is that of an entire nation aspiring to impose its ideologies upon the rest of the world. That as-opposed to taking over other nations by armed might and controlling them by repressive regimes; something the British would conveniently ignore. When their politics failed to spread much beyond the German border, war became inevitable, at which point other alliances were built, sides taken.
It was a war propelled by the industrial might of nations, their armed forces’ skills honed by regional conflicts outside, initially at least, Germany’s borders. It was a war of technological superiority, of a rapid development of new instruments of war applied effectively against adversaries who didn’t expect another conflict, especially with the smug, humiliating victory of The War To End All Wars.
And then there’s the media. During the Second World War the British were lucky to read or hear about major events within days, even if the British government deemed it acceptable that ordinary citizens knew what was going on. The newspapers were censored; the radio was mostly censored, save for the enemy’s propaganda broadcasts; the newsreels shown in cinemas showed only British propaganda. No satellite-fed coverage, no 24 hour telly, no social media gossip-spreading, no instant messaging.
People all over the world listened to what Mr Churchill said, and believed it. They listened to what Mr Hitler said and believed it. There was nothing else.
‘Intelligence’ is a word often derided nowadays when a terror attack happens. The futility of the security services monitoring everything for that ‘just in case’ scenario was shown up nicely by the events of mid-last week; a man simply not monitored for links to terror plunges a nation into crisis.
But how was it during WWII? Well, the British successfully created fake airfields filled with fake aircraft, and the high-level (or fast low-level) reconnaissance flights provided compelling evidence that the enemy strategists were fooled. Fields of fake tanks and other fake armoured vehicles at other times had the same effect. Surveillance technology was simply ineffective against what might now be termed laughable subterfuge. Maps were often hopelessly out-of-date; even the things we take for granted now: accurate digital mapping, aerial and pseudo-3D street-level walkthroughs were the stuff of next-millennial science fiction.
Nowadays it’s well established that the industrial might of a nation can be trivially assessed by picking up a phone and Googling for statistics. Seventy years ago it was guesswork, all of it. If the enemy had known how close Britain’s Air Force was to running out of aeroplanes and the means of manufacturing more, this world may have been a vastly different place. Intelligence failed. Perhaps it’d be kinder to say the British resolve triumphed, because that’s what we want to believe.
In short what we’re facing now is utterly unlike anything we’ve experienced previously.
I say ‘we’ conveniently ignoring the millions in the Middle East who must deal with this kind of hell on a daily basis.
It’s not the threat of a nation clad impeccably and riding iron steeds, no. It’s the threat of the ordinary man or woman or child radicalised by the unending and implacable hatred of those who simply don’t care about anyone but those with whom with imagined special relationships are key. It’s the threat that each and every one of them needs only a knife and a car to commit unspeakable acts. It’s the knowledge that anyone can kill or maim or destroy using the most basic of tools, the knowledge that just because someone looks different or doesn’t look different they can achieve the same ends.
I intended to close with the sarcastic ‘Aren’t we lucky to live now?’, intending to show that ignorance was indeed bliss 70 years ago. Not knowing how perpetually close to defeat Britain was helped morale immensely. Not knowing that the rationing of basic foodstuffs and household essentials would last far beyond the end of the war, it helped too.
I’ll instead close with this blog post from 2016, ‘Nice’ which refers to my near-identical post from 2015. If I’d started blogging earlier there’d be others pointing out the folly of allowing ignorance to fester, of allowing jingoistic nationalism to grow unchallenged.
As is usual I’ve not proof-read this knee-jerk reaction.