Saturday, January 04, 2014

The Great War poses a threat to Labour

It was inevitable that Labour would have to take a position on the commemoration of the First World War, although Shadow Education Secretary Tristram Hunt comes across as rather intemperate:

The Great War poses a threat to Labour in that left-wing pacifism and internationalism cannot be integrated into the narrative (not without a lot of clunky and unconvincing revisions - eg Tristram Hunt's assertion in the article that pre-1914 Germany was "fascist", an ideology that did not come into being until the post-war period).

For the Conservatives on the other hand all they have to do is allow the centennial anniversaries to unfold one by one and waves of national pride will wash through the country, culminating in the victory anniversary in 2018.

Conservatives simply have to allow the narrative to be told.

Socialists need to revise the narrative, so that the Blackadder spin is what the public sees.  This is going to be a tough challenge.  Also one that risks branding them as unpatriotic.

Recently I read Tell England by Ernest Raymond.  Published in 1922, it became very popular and has been continuously in print ever since.  One cannot imagine an account of the war that is more at variance to the "lions led by donkeys" theme.

The novel is strongly autobiographical, and is obviously a memorial in written form of his friendship with two companions (all of them aged in their early twenties) and the deaths of his two friends at Gallipoli.  Often sentimental, the story is half a school story and half a war story.  Sometimes the author goes off on incomprehensible excursions, as if he were more concerned with giving a complete record of his friends, rather than maintaining narrative drive. 

The book contains many passages that are homoerotic, and the story can be viewed as an unconsummated love story.  Homoeroticism was of course one of the major thematic experiences of the Great War, and the whole conflict can be seen as an episode of barely repressed sexual longing (perhaps that was why so many combatants did not want to talk about it when they returned to civilian life?).  This sexual aspect may well be one of the national "discoveries" of the next four years.

"...there are three things old England has learnt to make:  ships, and poetry, and boys."

"Just look around... isn't our Tommy the most lovable creature in the world".

"And your friendship is a more beautiful whole, as things are.  Had there been no war, you'd have left school and gone your different roads, till each lost trace of the other.  It's always the same.  But, as it is, the war has held you in a deepening intimacy till the end.  It's perfect."

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