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!