Tuesday, December 31, 2013

"Teflon Winnie vs the Tubers" : Richard North tells how THE FEW replaced THE MANY --- and why

I read all (or at least major portions) of about 1000 books a year, year in and year out.

 So when I break my stride just long enough to strongly urge you to run out and read a copy of Dr Richard North's "The Many not The Few" (Bloomsbury Press) , I hope you realize this is not something I do lightly or frequently.

I guess on some issues (like climate change) , Richard and I might be seen as being on different sides, but I have absolutely no problem raving on and on about this particular book from him.

Dr North really tears into the university myth of  The Few (The Few also being mostly, and not so coincidentally, university lads).

You already know the Myth's script and its rarely well hidden subtext.

 Those (oh so few) RAF fighter pilots. On their high tech steeds . (Tally Ho !) Who prevented the German invasion of Britain. And saved Civilization. 

While craven trade unionists cowered deep underground . In defeatist Tube Stations, refusing to come out. To do a honest day's work. For a honest day's pay.

It all reads as if rehearsed from a 1940s Young Conservative pamphlet - which in fact is where it did originate.

But why then is it now mostly coming out of the mouths of tweedy history professors who usually swear intellectual allegiance to some brand or other of academic Marxism ?

I suspect this is because eugenics hasn't died away at all but gone sotto voce and gotten tenure , only to re-emerge as academic specialization .

No more eugenic chances for a truly pure Aryan race.

 But still hopes can be entertained for a pure history of the Battle of Atlantic and a pure history of the Blitz and a pure history of the Battle of  Britain - all providing jobs, with pensions, for the specialists in these three areas.

And then along comes a miscegenationist like Richard North to muddle all three battles together - just as Hitler himself  and his planners did.

I will return again to this book again and again in the future, in particular looking at what its research methods mean for bottom up history versus top down history, but for today let us look at that continuing marvel : Teflon Winnie.

No matter how much new academic research comes out in published history (specialist peer-reviewed articles by history professors) about the failings of Churchill during WWII, it seems to have no impact on popular history ( generalist book reviewer reviewed book, usually also written by history professors).

There the wartime propaganda myths still form the frame to fit awkward new facts into.

Historians are trained to give paramount credit to (a) contemporary (b) official (c) paper records .

But during Total War , government re-writing history on the fly (censoring bad news even from government ministers and bally-hooing semi-fictional accounts of victories) is usually seen as more important than combat itself.

(North's book is basically 300 pages of examples of this claim, taken from the PR Battle over the Battle for Britain.) 

So why then should historians treat (scant) wartime government records (found in a very hard to access Archives) on the wartime bombing of Belfast over the abundant locally collected recent records of that tragic event , found on a website that all can access ?

Oh I guess I answered my own question - didn't I ?

Top level government officials' public and private papers remain ,in practise, easily open only to prominent (full professor level) academics or to assistant professors with a healthy grant and a good set of letters of recommendation.

Self-serving and incomplete they are, but very respectable when cited in the endnotes of an academic journal article.

But citing the URL of the painstakingly abundant recording of the details of every ship sunk in WWII , day by day, ocean by ocean, maintained on an open website by a bunch of dedicated amateurs is simply not on, not in a serious paper - even if that URL contain information that can be found no where else.

One good example of how self serving and incomplete the official records can be are the Nobel prize winning volumes produced by Churchill on the history of WWII , as seen by about the only senior leader of the war to remain alive and at large.

These hugely influential volumes set the framework for writing about WWII because Churchill, at that time, had access to key records that no one else had.

And when those records didn't support his claims, he just made things up, certain that the Cabinet Minutes would never be opened up - or not until long after he had frozen his version of the truth into intellectual concrete.

Teflon Winnie

So Teflon Churchill never had a disaster personally stick to him - he always found someone else to blame, always claimed he had urgently minuted about the problem months before it became a full crisis, so he was not at fault.

Only now, with the wartime cabinet papers being released, can we check his 1948-1949 claims against the actual record.

And just as the 1940 RAF kill claims proved as phoney as a paper moon sailing over a cardboard sea, so too has Churchill in many areas.

Never more so than in the great "ACTING UP" of 1940, when hundreds of thousands of working class Londoners defied guards to occupy the Tubes and the fancy hotels of London, to protest the lack of safe bomb shelters, like the ones Hitler had already provided his cities.

Churchill had repeatedly led the charge to use force to pull the Tubers out - but when the protest became too big, he rushed to the head of the crowd to claim he had led it all along.

No evidence has emerged to support his mass of hot air on this major morale crisis - all points to the exact opposite.

Why was Churchill so willing to condemn brave people to horrific weeks of nights in unsafe and uncomfortable Anderson huts ?

Because Churchill always had his Second Front.

It's just that it came from the left of Normandy's beaches, from the mass of mostly young, mostly grammar school educated, voters demanding not just a victory of returning to the halcyon days of 1936 Jarrow , but moving forward into some bright new future.

A wiser Tory like Baldwin or such might have agreed with the young, but Churchill was a hard liner on what position he took at a time (his whims varied hour by hour).

This time all his instincts said that any , any , recognizing of the rights of ordinary people to have a say in the running of their lives was the beginning of the end for his style of Toryism.

So no,no ,no to any British public announcing of war aims and no accepting that the masses in the Tubes were vox populi.

 Instead the deliberate PR effort to paint them as working class cowards, saved by a few upper class flying officers in the RAF.

Naval destroyers and Bomber Blenheims might have served instead as models, but they were collectivist fighting machines - but the solo pilots of the Spitfires were all gentlemen and gentlemen only .

So they alone were hoisted as the solo saviors of Britain.

It didn't pay out for Teflon Winnie on Race Day in 1945, but it did in subsequent elections for the Conservatives - and still does.

Thanks to a lot of help from left-leaning historians....

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