The Curmudgeon


Sunday, March 20, 2005

Origins and Uses of the Second World War

The Second World War was invented by Britain shortly after 1945 as a means of deferring recognition of British loss of status as a world power. The highly efficient American invention, WWII, enabled the United States finally to take over control of the world's resources in the period after 1945, leaving Britain in the potentially humiliating position of lieutenant or junior partner in the American imperial enterprise. Unable to reconcile its new subordinate position with the demands of the national ego, Britain quickly developed its own, somewhat more subdued and sentimental version of WWII to counter the brash American edition.

In contrast to the American model, which began in December 1941 with the attack on Pearl Harbour, and ended even more spectacularly in August 1945 after the nuclear attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the British Second World War started quietly, with the invasion of Poland and the replacement of the ineffective Chamberlain with the war's main protagonist on the side of virtue, Winston Churchill. Less efficiently made than its American counterpart, the British war progressed by fits and starts through the latter part of 1939 and early 1940, with abortive campaigns in France and Norway. It was only in the spring of 1940, with the battle for Britain's air space, that the British war truly got off the ground.

The months from May to September 1940 constitute the central component of the British war, often supplemented with material from late 1940 and early 1941 such as the German bombing of targets including London, Coventry and Buckingham Palace. Fortunately, in the case of Buckingham Palace, no one was hurt. The British model derives much of its character from this and similar touches, including the phenomenon of evacuees and the atmosphere of cameraderie engendered by the blackout, rationing, imminent fear of invasion and Churchill's speeches.

Following the events of 1940 and early 1941, the British model is only intermittently functional. The contribution of US funding is frequently recognised, but the taking over of British resources, first by the Japanese and then by the United States, means that the British war sags somewhat in the middle and has a decidedly mixed ending. The Normandy landings in 1944 and the amusing atmospheric touches of V-1s, V-2s and VE Day must be set against the costly fiasco of Operation Market Garden and a certain over-reliance on manpower from what was later to be recognised as a monolithic and ruthless conspiracy to place a ferrous drape across Europe.

Despite its rather top-heavy construction and its ramshackle appearance, the British model of the war continues in use to this day. Like Britain's antiquated sewers, patched-together roads, laughable transport infrastructure, run-down schools, mediocre sportspeople and inane royal family, the Second World War remains a vital and integral component of national culture, and one of the main bastions of Britain's defence against the encroachments of a rebuilt and newly confident Europe.


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