Friday, September 04, 2009

Would We Fight World War Two Now?

If only I hadn't been papped after that 13th brandy...

There’s a big hoo-ha in historian circles about whether Britain should have fought the Second World War or come to an accommodation with Hitler. Several revisionist historians are arguing that Churchill was, basically, a bit of a twat for keeping us in the conflict, including evangelical Republican Pat Buchanan. The contention is that we would have kept the Empire and Germany and the Soviet Union would have fought themselves to a standstill anyway.

I tend to think that these people are talking bollocks. WW2 was actually the last war where we could genuinely say we were facing an evil that threatened our civilization. But the debate also got me thinking about the social differences between then and now. My question is this: Would the British people now sign up to such a devastating and costly war? Would people now put up with the sacrifices involved?

I would say ‘no’. There are three main reasons.

Firstly, look at the shitstorm in the media kicked up by the death of servicemen in Afghanistan. Can you imagine the outcry the government would face over the death toll of 326,000 servicemen in WW2 (let alone the 62,000 civilian deaths)? We’ve pretty much got used to the idea that war is about us kicking third world arse in a high technology way without expecting casualties on our side. We were rather scared of a few jihadis with homemade bombs. If we faced an enemy with comparable weaponry to out own I think we would shit our collective national pants.

The second reason is that I don’t think our society is capable of unity any more. Everyone’s agenda is fragmented and I don’t think that people swallow the government line as unquestioningly any more. In order to fight a world war you need to mobilize a nation in a very regimented way. To do so you need a centralised media to tell your story consistently. With our multiple media channels, you might be able to sustain that in an initial wave of outrage (The War on Terror anyone?) momentarily, but I guarantee it would dissolve quickly.

My third and final argument is that most people don’t buy the idea of the enemy as an evil abstract collective block any more. I get the impression that the British people saw all Germans as Nazi bastards who deserved what they got for following Hitler. I can’t imagine that we’d wear the carpet-bombing of civilians on a Bomber Harris scale nowadays. We’d see German civilians as innocent individuals and deplore their deaths. During the invasion of Iraq, I guess there are many idiots who saw all Iraqis as worthy of bombing, but the furor over the deaths of civilians in American raids demonstrates that we won’t tolerate civilian deaths in the same way. Hence all the nonsense about ‘precision’ bombing and ‘surgical strikes’ in the discourse of modern military PR. We like the illusion that we only kill combatants. Be hard to maintain that illusion after Dresden, one would imagine.

Of course, all this is pointless conjecture because Churchill’s drinking habits would have been exposed in the News of the World and he’d have had to resign anyway.

In short, if we faced Hitler now, we’d be fucked.


Steve said...

Regarding the unity thing... it's a misnomer to think that everyone was pulling together during the war years and being chummy. The black market was rife as was opportunism and other crime. Not so different from now I warrant. But I think a war with a country with comparative technology would make us unite. Yes, we would initially shit our pants. Yes we'd initially decry the huge loss of life... but then, we'd buckle down. Get stuck in. Get behind the cause. This is less about the tough Brit spirit and more about human nature pure and simple.

Tristan said...

Interesting point about the back market etc, although I still think they mobilised the nation in a way we couldn't do now. I'm not suggsting that Brits were less selfish - just more influenced by propaganda.

Would we fight to the bitter end now? I guess it's all conjecture as any war between major powers would escalate into a nuclear conflict - probably be over very quickly!

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