hope and glory

Film, Liberties, Politics, War

Years ago, when I was about ten, I briefly had a particularly terrible teacher. He was a hateful, poisonous old man, loathed by all his pupils for his spite and malice. I’m not sure how he ended up teaching, and to this day I really don’t understand how he held onto his job.

For a short while, though, I saw another side to him.

When the Falklands War began, he put a big map of the islands up at the bottom of the school stairs. Every morning he’d carefully move little coloured pins across it, updating us all on the latest positions of the British and Argentinian Forces.

There was an entirely uncomplicated, entirely boyish glee to him as he did this. A child myself, I saw the ten year old in him. I imagined him back in the ’40s, his life still rich with love and promise, following the Allied troops as they fought for Europe, marking out their progress on a map with his little pins.

He’d have been old enough to understand the scope and importance of their achievement, but still too young to really take in how much pain and loss that victory contained. Perhaps his war had been some sort of ‘Hope and Glory’ experience:

And so when another war came towards the end of his life, he was full of joy. For a moment, he could be a child again. I still loathed him, but I was happy for him too – glad and even touched that, even just for a moment, he could find a way past the fog of bitterness that normally enveloped him.

I’m reminded of him now, when I see Michael Howard rattling sabres at Spain:

There’s that same nostalgia there; at once a yearning for and a re-experiencing of a simpler, happier time. And there’s that same joy at the thought of a Great British war, that same absolute blindness to any of its darker aspects.

But what’s forgivable – even touching – in an ageing primary school teacher is appalling in a senior British politican. Brexit as currently managed is government by fantasy and nostalgia. All adult considerations are put aside, replaced with a short-sighted, childish glee that – if allowed to reign unchecked – could cost us all so much, for so little.

I think even my bitter old teacher would have seen that. He taught us history; and the one thing he was always very clear about was that we didn’t fight the Second World War against Europe. We fought for it and as a part of it:

So, to my surprise, I almost find myself wishing that he was here now, so he could teach the Michael Howards of this world exactly what it means to walk away from, to so casually dream of shattering, that peaceful union we’re all a part of; that union that past generations fought so hard, and gave so much, to create.

Bombing the alien

Aliens, Liberties, Novelists, Politics, Science Fiction

Continuing to ponder the alien, in the context of bombings. Recapping yesterday, Lem sees the alien as being inexplicable in common human terms; it happens without apparently comprehensible cause or effect. We can be physically proximate to it, but we can never approach it rationally or emotionally.

So what does this have to do with bombings? Well, it’s a question of motivation. Speaking after the recent failed attacks in Glasgow and London, PM Gordon Brown described this kind of terrorism as being perpetrated by ‘a few extremists who wish to practise violence and inflict maximum loss of life in the interests of a perversion of their religion.’ While in power, Tony Blair consistently used a comparable formulation, talking of an ‘extremism based on a perversion of Islam’.

According to both Brown and Blair, terrorist motivation is rooted in wrong headed faith. Key aspects of faith are that it’s spontaneous; it’s absolute; and it’s irrational. Made wrong-headed, ‘perverted’, it becomes even more so. Given this definition of terrorist motivation, terrorist activity becomes a force of nature – or more appositely, an act of god. It’s something that just happens.

That implied ‘it just happens’ is fascinating. It moves terrorist activity into the realm of the alien, making it something that can’t be understood or engaged with on rational terms.

It can’t be predicted – so sweeping action against anyone who might conceivably be / become a terrorist is justified. It has no clear context – so trying to understand it as a response to (say) the invasion and occupation of Iraq is rendered futile. And it will never go away – so substantial measures against it *have* to be taken, because it’s become a perpetual, ongoing threat.

Taking liberties

Liberties, Music, Poets

Mike Harrison very thought provoking today on control, mass trespass and fantasies of childhood in the English countryside:

‘The utter brilliance of the Kinder mass trespasses was that they gave the non-magic kind of children permission to occupy some of those landscapes.’

A forced ceding of control by the controlling classes. This conflict over control seems to me to be a key feature of the broader English landscape. It’s there in the battle between our two national anthems, ‘God Save the Queen’ and ‘Jerusalem’ – thus:

‘…God save the Queen:
Send her victorious,
Happy and glorious,
Long to reign over us:
God save the Queen…’


‘Bring me my bow of burning gold!
Bring me my arrows of desire!
Bring me my spear: o clouds unfold!
Bring me my chariots of fire!’

The official anthem is a call to be commanded, to become entirely passive. What riches there are in the world – material, spiritual – are to be administered for us, by our betters:

‘Thy choicest gifts in store,
On her be pleased to pour;
Long may she reign’

The second a great dynamic roar, demanding the tools needed to get out there and actively remake the world – as unpassive as you can possibly get:

‘I will not cease from metal fight;
Nor shall my sword sleep in my hand
Till we have built Jerusalem
In England’s green and pleasant land.’

Blake used to say ‘I must create my own system, else be enslaved by another man’s’. Two different Englands to choose between; I know which one I want to live in.

Oh, and, for a modern take on how we’re controlled, check out new documentary ‘Taking Liberties’ – on cinema release this weekend.