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The Blitz myth 7, September 2010

Posted by thegulfblog.com in UK.
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I dislike local news on UK television and the national news (especially on ITV) is often equally bad. There seems to be a conscious attempt to dumb-down any and all stories to an absurd lowest common clichéd denominator. The recent stories on the Blitz, unfortunately, fit into this category.

The 7th September 2010 is the 70th anniversary of the Blitz; when the German Luftwaffe began months of nightly raids on London and numerous other cities around the U.K. These raids finished in May 1941. By then, around 43,000 Londoners had been killed, the East End in particular had been decimated, and, for example, Coventry had been essentially wholly destroyed.

From these raids, to my mind, two things emerged. First, the Royal Air Force (RAF) meted out the same punishment to numerous German cities including the decimation of Dresden and secondly, there emerged a pervasive myth. Notions of ‘plucky’ Londoners, going about their business, still dancing in shelters, unfazed and unaffected by the Blitz (German for lightening) highlighted Britain’s spirit against the Nazis. Whilst some of this is true; indeed, the Blitz did not at all break the spirit of Brits; people did carry on with a stoic resignation, this gets taken wholly too far.

One aspect of the myth is that ‘all Londoners’ pulled together. That the class walls melted, everyone ‘mucked-in’ in the face of the Hun. Not quite.

The upper class had either left for the countryside where they were wholly safe in their country estates or they were ensconced in comfortable, sanitary shelters in expensive London hotels or clubs. The lower classes had nothing. No public shelters (unlike in Berlin) had been created for fear of fostering an ‘underground’ mentality. Initially, authorities did not even want people to shelter on the tube, though this was soon relaxed. Though so-called Anderson shelters were distributed, whilst these might shelter you from shrapnel, were a bomb to fall in your vicinity, they’d have been as much use as putting a Styrofoam coffee-cup on your head for protection. While the government did begin to build some shelters in the streets, these were poorly constructed and quickly became fetid and wholly unsanitary.

The myth of people carrying on as normal, partying and dancing heedless of Jerry’s dangers, was put about by Government propaganda, which incensed many people; they were hardly enjoying themselves cowering in squalid, half-shelters. Indeed, this precipitated the invasion of the Savoy Hotel on 15th September 1940 where people demanded to be sheltered.

Is any of this covered in the news? No. Is it even hinted at? Not that I’ve seen. I can understand that this peddling of the myth is nice and comfortable for all concerned and while some might say that it’s patriotic to do so I’d disagree. I’ve no desire to tear-down British history and portray us in a negative light; there’s nothing at all wrong with admitting that the Blitz was more difficult for some than others. All I ask is a bit of context; for the other side of the argument. How many Brits know, for example, that horrific as the 43,000 Londoners killed in the 1940-1 Blitz undoubtedly is, roughly three times that number of people died on just one night of the fire-bombing of Tokyo?


I’ve just stumbled on this article in The Guardian discussing – far better than me – the other side of the Blitz myth.

Bombing does not work: from the Blitz, to Tokyo to Gaza 7, January 2009

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Israeli-Palestinian Conflict.
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Marc Lynch, the Professor of Political Science at GWU and the author of the long running Abu Aardvark blog comments on a talk given by the Israeli Ambassador to America . In the q and a towards the end, the Ambassador is persistently asked about Israel’s strategy in Gaza. I.e. how exactly their military force will weaken Hamas politically: what will literally happen to achieve this end.  Aside from referring to the numbers of Hamas fighters killed and their infrastructure degradation, he had no answer. Indeed, according to Lynch, he seemed to advocate the absence of a strategy as a positive step. Thus, the great unknown of how Israel actually hopes and plans to achieve their stated war goals remains something of a mystery.

This situation is somewhat reminiscent to the British and the Germans in World War Two. Both sides thought that by carpet bombing each other’s cities (Coventry and Dresden to name the most infamous examples) they would destroy the spirit and the support of the other’s population. Therefore – so the logic went – this now terrified population would thus seek to check their leaders and beseech them to seek peace or surrender. This was the prevailing theory at the time. It was, of course, proved not only to be incorrect but caused the exact opposite: it galvanised public opinion against their enemy and behind their political authorities. This kind of mistaken logic was also employed in the American fire bombings of Tokyo which killed more people than the Atomic bombs yet still did not begin to cause the Japanese population to revolt or seek the end of the war.

These examples, it seems to me, are a reasonable approximation of what it happening in Gaza and Israel. Both sides think that they can frighten their opposition into surrender. It is something of a seductive logic which initially might make sense. It ignores, however, countless other factors such as decades of built-up hate and anger and indeed, Israel’s own experiences. When suicide attacks and rocket attacks affect Israeli cities, this does not cause swathes of Israelis affected to demand that their government give up, surrender or even retreat in their policies. Exactly the same can be said about the previous Israeli attacks in Gaza and the West Bank. Indeed, support for Hamas is higher than ever. According to one Fatah local leader, ‘everyone’ in his area now supported Hamas. Vicious attacks on one’s community do not cause people to shrink away from the attackers, but they bring the population ever closer, united against a common enemy under the auspices of whatever group promises retribution.