Viewing posts tagged wwii

Victory of the Icon 4

At the time, the liberals and the left thought of World War II as a battle between civilisation and barbarism, between progress and reaction.  This is still the mainstream view today.  But the leaders of the Allies did not think this way, if they were honest.  For instance...

The Churchill who demanded a no-holds-barred prosecution of the war was the same Churchill who had been present during the butchery at Omdurman, sent troops to shoot down striking miners in 1910 [this is probably not true], ordered the RAF to use poison gas against Kurdish rebels in British-ruled Iraq [this is arguable], and praised Mussolini. He had attacked a Conservative government in the 1930s for granting a minimal amount of local self government to India, and throughout the war he remained adamant that no concessions could be made to anti-colonial movements in Britain’s colonies, although this could have helped the war effort. ‘I have not become the king’s first minister’, he declared, ‘to oversee the dismemberment of the British Empire.’ He told Roosevelt and Stalin at Yalta, ‘While there is life in my body, no transfer of British sovereignty will be permitted’.


In the Second World War, many - probably ...

Voluminous Description

Finally finished Kershaw's biography of Hitler.  I've been working on it - both volumes, unabridged - for years, picking it up for a bit, putting it down for a bit, etc.  (This is how I usually tackle mammoth reading projects.)

Can't help feeling underwhelmed.  I mean, I'm in absolute awe of the scholarship and knowledge and patience and effort involved in such a massive and detailed project... but it fails to live up to the hype from the middle-brow and/or reactionary reviewers - Paxman, Sereny, Hastings, Burleigh, etc - that is splashed so proudly all over the back covers.

Kershaw has produced something that is, at least for long stretches, narrative history.  The narrative history of one protagonist.  This would be fine if the protagonist possessed fascinating and complex (if vile) interiority.  Hitler, however, did not have anything of the kind.  He appears to have been a nonentity, a psychological nullity, a hazy cloud of pedestrian neuroses, a reflex machine made of clockwork prejudices, a lazy fool, a windbag, a crashing bore, a plodder, a cold and self-involved man, a man with little capacity for any passion other than fury, and little ...

45

In a bunker filled with stacks and stacks of munitions shells, Millington is demonstrating his secret weapon.  He breaks a capsule inside a sealed glass box.  Green fog pours out.  The doves inside slowly choke to death. 

"Just think what a bomb full could do to Dresden.  Or Moscow," says Millington.  "It could mean the end of the war," he says perfunctorily.  The old, eternal justification.  

But Millington isn't trying to end a war.  He's trying to start a new one.  In his twisted mind, the final battle of Norse mythology has become entwined with the final battle between his way of life and the "revolution" that Sorin believes in.

(Just like Churchill, who asked his generals to come up with a plan for a surprise attack on the USSR, using German troops, after Allied victory over the Nazis.  Learning of the American success with the atomic bomb he grew even bolder, saying "We can tell the Russians if they insist on doing this or that, well we can just blot out Moscow, then Stalingrad, then Kiev, then Sevastopol".)

Millington's green fog, harvested from a well ...

A Town Without Context

On 'A Town Called Mercy'

The ends can justify the means, but there needs to be something which justifies the ends.
 - Trotsky

Jex experiments on people in order to create a cyborg supersoldier.  His motive is to end a war which is killing his people.  But were his people the attackers or the attacked?  That this is ignored tells us a great deal about the writer/s but deprives us of the possibility of making moral sense of the story.  It is ignored, presumably because it is considered irrelevant.  Yet, the whole point of the story appears to be the question of whether Jex is a bad man or a good one... with the answer being, of course, "yes".  But I'd argue that the wider social context of Jex's actions (beyond just saying that 'it was war') is as important as it is obscure.

The notion - that war is, as Jex puts it, "a different world" in which normality shifts drastically and morality becomes fuzzy - is, for a start, a somewhat glib truism.  Like all such glib truisms, it can be pressed into service (i.e. "Yes, an invasion will ...

Victory of the Icon 3

I have a massive, endlessly-lengthening list of books, old and new, that I want to get around to reading.  Donny Gluckstein's new book A People's History of the Second World War just went straight in near the top of the list.

Gluckstein's argument seems to be that WWII was actually two wars, fought in parallel.  One was an imperialist squabble between established empires and up-and-coming imperialist nations that were set to clash with them.  Britain, France, Russia and America (which was already a continental empire and was ready to expand globally) found themselves violently competing for hegemony with Germany, Italy and Japan.  Running beneath this conflict there was a people's war against fascism (the form taken by the new empires) underpinned by dreams of freedom and democracy.  The imperialists running the first war knew that had to appeal to the priorities of the people fighting the second war in order to enlist their support, hence the democratic rhetoric.

I mention this here because Gluckstein has done an interview for New Left Project, in which he has some things to say about Winston Churchill, the subject of my irregular 'Victory of the ...

Skulltopus 2: Bad Night at Fang Rock

Further to this post, in which I sketched out the ideas of the author China Miéville concerning the relationship between the tentacular and the Weird, and the superpositioning of the Weird and the hauntological in monsterology (please read that before you read anything below), here's my first attempt to look at Doctor Who through that lens.

'Horror of Fang Rock' (1977) seems like an obvious first port of call.  Set just before the First World War (in other words, in the years of the rise of the semiotic octopus, just before the explosion of the Weird), the Rutan is a tentacular monster, though the tentacles are rarely seen and, on the whole, the creature seems more like a jellyfish (even down to its "affinity with electricity").


It seems to be a manifestation of the nebulous electrified military modernity that the character Reuben so resents and fears.  It seems permeated with technology through its affinity with electricity.  It uses the generator, speaks of its ability to shape-shift as a "technique" and leaves bits of its own alien tech all over the place, including a "signal modulator" that chimes thematically with all the concentration on the lighthouse's wireless telegraph ...

Amnesia Day

I don't wear a poppy.  Laurie Penny has written a very good article, expressing many views that I agree with, here.  I don't engage in the silence at 11 o'clock either.  I know that most ordinary people who do observe the silence and wear the poppy do so for sincere reasons.  But I myself cannot stomach it.  I think my reasons are less intellectual and more to do with the sheer, physical revulsion I feel at the hypocrisy on display in images like this:



What's the collective noun for warmongers?  A troop?  A collateral?  Well, whatever.  There they stand, doing their best sincere and sombre faces.  All guilty of sending people off to fight and kill and die and maim and be maimed in order to protect the interests of the American empire and neoliberalism's access to markets.  And wrapping it all up in the rhetoric of 'sacrifice' and 'freedom'.  The poppy, the cenotaph, the silence, the 'Ode to Remembrance'... I can't help but see it all as cynical and calculated.  As ideology.  As an attempt by a warmongering, imperialist ...

Victory of the Icon

In the course of preparing myself [to play Churchill in a biopic]… I realized afresh that I hate Churchill and all of his kind. I hate them virulently. They have stalked down the corridors of endless power all through history…. What man of sanity would say on hearing of the atrocities committed by the Japanese against British and Anzac prisoners of war, ‘We shall wipe them out, every one of them, men, women, and children. There shall not be a Japanese left on the face of the earth’? Such simple-minded cravings for revenge leave me with a horrified but reluctant awe for such single-minded and merciless ferocity.

- Richard Burton. (He got banned from the BBC for writing that. Which must’ve really burned him as he lounged around in Hollywood with Elisabeth Taylor’s head in his lap.)


In ‘Victory of the Daleks’ by Mark Gatiss, Winston Churchill is depicted as a wiley and cantankerous old fox, as a twinkly-eyed yet determined fighter against the Nazi menace, as a moral force, as an impish and roguish but unequivocally good man. This is very much the mainstream view of Churchill, in both ‘pop culture’ and in much of the trash that ...

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