Hammerstein by Clint Langley

Great cover by Clint on the latest 2000AD.  And my favorite episode of “Return to Earth” follows shortly thereafter, which shows the United Kingdom in a less than flattering light.

If the idea of Britain as the bad guys seems a bit strange, it’s largely down to how unfamiliar that is in the pages of popular fiction, because they are generally written by conservative writers. Although in the pages of fact things are finally starting to change, even if they still have a long way to go.

Consider for instance, Cruel Britannia by Ian Cobain, published by Portobello Books, which relates the British torture of Nazi POWs during and after World War Two. It describes “the horrifying interrogation methods that belie our proud boast that we fought a clean war.” (tinyurl.com/9ju64mj)

And the excellent Unpatriotic History of the Second World War by James Heartfield (Zero Books). It describes how British officers pushed in front of their men to escape at Dunkirk.  It relates the Allied policy of taking no prisoners when fighting against the Japanese.  It talks about the British responsibility for the Bengal famine in which 1.5 million to 4 million people died.  It was not a natural thing, “the cause of the famine was an order from Churchill to starve the Bengalis, the order was called the Rice Denial policy.”

Actually, I think it’s patriotic to finally recognize that Britain is no different to any other country and is not morally superior – which is certainly what I was taught at school.  Or rather lied to at school.  I can remember being told how evil the Mau Mau freedom fighters in Kenya were. Ditto freedom fighters in Aden, Malaya and Cyprus. Anyone who challenges Britain and stop it stealing their wealth must – by definition – be evil.

No wonder the UK was known in other countries as Perfidious Albion.  We have carefully whitewashed over the darkness of our appalling history and we still today have jingoistic reporting of Prince Harry, after his recent shenanigans, as an intrepid hero in Afghanistan  – “Prince vows to fight on after deadly gun battle” –  which is nothing short of an old school, Imperialist Ripping Yarn designed to boost army recruitment, along with the Action Man toys owned by the MOD. I don’t know about his current tour, but an army officer told me the Prince was very well protected on his previous heroic tour.

So nothing’s really changed from the days of Kipling, Henty and all the other justifiers of Empire.  We still have the White Man’s Burden which I satirised – with co-writer Alan Mitchell – in Black Man’s Burden in Crisis. Powerfully illustrated by the late John Hicklenton, it showed the other side of the Tarzan coin with images from the British massacres of the Kenyans during the Mau Mau rebellion.  The printers were so appalled, they tried to stop it being published.  Britain just doesn’t do things like that. Or rather, it rarely gets found out.  This is a foreign edition, I’m afraid as – to date – it has never been reprinted by a British publisher, although I live in hope.

So look out for an upcoming episode of the ABC Warriors where a British Prime Minister (Old Etonian and Bullingdon Boy) and the descendant of  a Mau Mau leader fight to the death in a globally televised Rollerball-style Tournaphon.  They have both trained for months for a series of pentathlon-style contests, which viewers phone in and vote for, concluding with a single combat event.  War has just been banned by the United Nations so this is the way conflicts between leaders are resolved in the future.

Imagine such a scenario in real life and who might win.  Blair versus Saddam Hussein. Bush versus Bin Laden. Obama versus Assad  Ahmadinejad versus Netanyahu. Cameron versus Gaddafi.  Single combat is less absurd than mass-slaughter. Why should squaddies be sent to do their dirty work? How heroic would our leaders be if they had to do the fighting themselves?  I think they’d try a whole lot harder for peace if their own lives were on the line.The fact that it seems bizarre, ridiculous and science fiction to us, is a measure of how brainwashed we are to the logic and inevitability of war.  Yet surprisingly General Smedley Butler, America’s most decorated soldier, once talked in not dissimilar terms. He suggested that the only people who should vote for war  should be those who would be called upon to do the fighting and the dying.  “Only those who would be called upon to risk their lives for their country should have the privilege of voting to determine whether the nation should go to war.” How ridiculous. Surely Blair and Bush and Obama’s way is superior?  The fact we don’t hear much today about Butler – who stopped an attempt by American corporations to stage a fascist coup in the US – is a measure of  his importance and the inconvenient truths he related about war and the arms industry.

Do check out the Tournaphon – it’s a great catharsis!


  1. Hey, Pat, before he goes off on his great Eton-torture-porn adventure, will the Mau Mau have to first fight a representative of the thousands of Africans that his mob maimed and butchered?

    • Thanks for your interesting comment, M.R. I guess your point would ALSO apply to the Maquis, the Israeli Stern Gang, the Algerian FLN, Irish freedom movements and any number of resistance fighters who have since become acceptable to the world at large. The difference with the Mau Mau is because they were black and there was an aura of “primitivism” about them they don’t seem to have gone through the same rehabilitation process. Hence why I chose them. I recall as a kid how people talked in hushed, terrified voices about the Mau Mau like they were the devil incarnate, although white policemen castrating Mau Mau fighters and gouging out their eyes was okay. After all, they were primitive and could be treated like savages. I believe the government are now having to pay out to survivors, conveniently after many years so there’s not so many to pay. Clearly the government feel there is a case to answer. My point in the story is not about whether any particular freedom fighter is “good” in any absolute sense of the word. I’d say not. But that we are conditioned from birth in this country to think we are superior and do not indulge in wars of aggression, torture, brutal repression and appalling colonialism. We are always the good guys. We supposedly always play by the Queensbury rules and follow the Geneva convention. Even though Iraq and Afghanistan and a myriad of other examples should tell us otherwise, but for a very tightly controlled press who continue to have a Boys Own/Ripping Yarns approach to our neo-colonialism. Hence the Mail reports how our brave Prince Harry is out there fighting for freedom in our new Vietnam. When newspapers behave like comics, it’s time for comics to behave like newspapers. Hence why I’m plugging a book on this blog “Why are WE the Good Guys?” Britain is probably unique in this hypocrisy. But a little of the truth is coming out. This story is my very small contribution to the truth.

  2. Is there any possibility to see books like Action, Crisis and Toxic being reprinted? There are so many good british comics that seems discarded and half-forgotten.

    Speaking of war atrocities and the view of WWII as the ‘good war’, have you read Ernie Pike, by Oesterheld and Pratt? An Argentinian war comic from 1957. An amazing read and far ahead of its time of pointing out war crimes commited by the allies and portraying war as an unglamorous, dirty business. I don’t see how it will ever make it into English, with american aircraft attacking red cross vessels, but the first parts of it are available in French from Casterman. Pratt aside, I hold Oesterheld in high regard, not only because of his skill but for his sheer guts and personal commitment. He ended up becoming one of the desparecidos.

  3. Pat. Only recently stumbled upon your blog and as a 40-something comics book fan who grew up on Action and 2000AD I am thoroughly enjoying your insights into the industry. Re. your comment above about the “Unpatriotic History of the Second World War” and officers pushing in front of their men at Dunkirk I have a related storey from my own family history. My grandfather was a Maor at Dunkirk and when he and his men arrived at the beaches they were refused entry onto evacuation boats because he wasn’t a Colonel or above in rank. Leaving his men by the boats he wandered off down the beach until he found the body of a Colonel and casually swopped jackets with him. Returning to the boats the same officer who had refused him minutes before let him and his men on the boats based only on the number of pips now showing on his epaulettes!

      • Please feel free. It would be a honour to have a small connection with a Pat Mills publication.

        If you want to use names his was Joe Davidson, unless you prefer to keep it anonymous.

        Apologies for the spelling mistake above. Obviously he was a Major, not a Maor. as far as I am aware he was not a great follower of Chinese Communism!

        Actually he is a somewhat maligned character in my family. After my grandmother died in the ‘50’s he effectively abandoned my mother and her brother to be raised by a great aunt, who never had a good word to say about him. She used to say that my grandmother went through the forest and came out with a stick! I never knew him as he died the year I was born in ‘64, but this story of him at Dunkirk came out at his funeral from one of the men he helped save and who told it to my mother’s cousin. Just show’s that you never can tell about a person.

        Keep up the great work. It has been many, many year’s since I stopped getting 2000AD on a weekly basis (though not as many as my wife thought acceptable for a grown man), but the Volgan War re-print collections were an automatic buy for me and I am looking forward to the Return to Earth collection, though I guess it might be a year or so before that hits the shelves. Of course, now you may be giving a reason to buy the last volume of Charley’s War, which would mean that I would also have to buy all the earlier volumes as well. Curse you collectomania!

      • Thanks, Andy. It’s an excellent story. The kind I would have featured if Charley had continued into World War Two.

        Return to Earth may be out late in 2013, I’m told. Clint’s done a terrific job on it!


  5. Talking of Kenya, Ian Cobain and the use of torture and murder by the British state:

    The FCO’s lawyers had already conceded in court that the accounts given by the three Mau Mau veterans – of castration, rape and savage beatings – had been honest accounts, and that senior British and colonial officials had been aware of the ugly truth about daily life in the prison camps of 1950s Kenya. So why was the government continuing to resist their claim for compensation, and an apology?


    Interesting that you should raise BMB – it was one of the strongest chapters in 3WW for me, and not just because Ryan is such a strong character. Through Crisis at that time I found myself questioning the kneejerk ‘white liberal’ values, and looking deeper. The BADS storyline took me to explore the writings of Steve Biko; Ryan led me to look at the privatisation of policing and Britain’s colonial wars. I have no reason to believe my experience was unique – so take that as partway vindication of the comic’s mission!

  6. Also I haven’t noticed it till now, but I didn’t know there was a German version of Black Man’s Burden. Is it from a graphic novel or from a German magazine like Extrem where Torturer was published?

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