David Edgerton: Britains War Machine



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Er shifted out of the warfare agenda excepting perhaps under Harold Wilson and then in its time of troubles in the 1970sIt was brought into Government by Churchill as a political manouevre to counter the free trade and peace elements on the Right and was largely cover for his own Liberal Militarism and imperialismFrom that point on although it captured the State through elections in fact the State captured it culminating in the final indignity of a full blown Liberal Militarist running it like a dictatorship in Blair1926 may have proven decisively that the revolutionary path was not possible for the Left but Ramsey Macdonald and then Attlee both hammered nails of different sorts into the coffin of left democracyMacdonald toadied to the prevailing vision of economics when he had no need to and Attlee far forgivably sacrificed democracy for the power to make material changes in the lives of the peopleSimilarly the book helps to lay to rest another set of malign myths that come from the closed elite that seems to decide how we are to think as well as live about EuropeThe logic of the European Union for Europeans is profound in the context of world war Any power that conuers Europe by force destroys Europe by triggering blockades on one side and Russia on the otherFrom this perspective unifying Europe and turning it into a single market by consent halts competition for internal imperial control and ensures that scarcities can be ameliorated by internal tradeBut for the United Kingdom and for Russia the same logic does not apply Let Russia speak for Russia but the United Kingdom only survives as an island through lobal and not just European tradeInside Europe the United Kingdom is just a Province outside Europe it is a wealthy Informal Empire The welfare state depends on it being than a Province It reuires the City and exportsJust as the Labour Party needs to be removed or become the voice of the people so the United Kingdom needs to recognise that what is in the interest of the people is independence of EuropeThe elite that blundered into war in 1914 and in 1939 is still with us It still has a Liberal Militarist ideology and it still buys off any attempt to uestion its rule in just the way it has always doneIt is committed to its own survival by selling out a rather limited democracy and our independent cultural tradition to a bureaucracy that reproduces its own desire for waste warfare and a trough Neither world war was necessary to the British people unless you are a card carrying liberal internationalist but that is what these people are The same people took us to edge on the Ukraine only this monthThe same bureaucrats and intellectuals from the same network of schools and universities with the same editors run rough shod over both the wealth producers in business and the workers One of the tricks is to divide us aggressively into right and left as if the worker and the financier do not actually have in common as wealth creators than either do with those who live high on the tax hogWorkers who won t work but want a regular wage and capitalists who are pig On the Run greedy are minorities we can deal with but a free nation is one with absolute euality of opportunity and reward for effortBut back to the book where none of this politics exists just straight talking on the facts that stands in a long tradition of independent historical thought thatoes back to Angus CalderEach The Price Of Blood (Phil Broker, generation of historian I admire Richard Overy in this respect too is stripping way the mythology of power and allowing us to make choices about the narrative that works for usIncreasingly one sees accepted history as a form of belief a religion of identity and the best historians of our time as critics of culture whose impact is like that of philosophers on religionIdentities have become fluid in the internet age So they should be matters of choice and not imposition but identities have notone awayJust as someone might choose to be transgender another might reaffirm their traditional masculinity Someone might choose to be a Wiccan and another affirm an existential belief in the Lord Jesus ChristSo it is with national identity it is a thing that we inherit and then we have to choose what to do with the inheritance adopt what we have been Russian Winter given reject or adapt it to new conditionsI hope the new fact based and humane historiography of war empire and nationality enables us to begin to analyse our position without falling into the trap of ideologyWhat are our own core values what is theood and how do these values related to what I have been told it is to be as I choose to be English British or even EuropeanEdgerton s book alongside others reaffirms that what it is to be British is my choice on the facts and I choose to be enraged at the incompetence and waste of our ruling elite and at the warfare stateHowever I also choose to be deeply impressed by the way the people of a very small island created a Meg and the Mystery in Williamsburg (Meg Duncan, global trading system that on balance if callously brought a positive modernity to the worldI also choose to think that the suppressed and repressed radical democratic tradition of the English remains fundamental to reviving Britain as a peaceful prosperous and humane nationAn English Left shorn of ideology critical of power engaged withlobal wealth creation and abandoning liberal internationalism and techno warfare as false and cruel may be far away but it can beIf we come to see an euivalent Right that is individualistic and democratic and competes for space with neo socialism in a free independent Britain this will also be down to Pregnant Man good historiography. Le others paid areat price Britain's War Machine by putting resources machines and experts at the heart of a lobal rather than merely imperial story demolishes some of the most cherished myths about wartime Britain and ives us a very different and often unsettling picture of a reat power in action.

Ps Much of the world was dependent on patterns of trade and finance set by London and London dictated its termsThe UK was uite capable of shifting its supply around from a blockaded Europe to the rest of the world in a way impossible to Hitler as much as Napoleon and to do so very uicklyEuropean dictators have to rab territory drive desperately for oil fields or wheat lands whereas the The House Girl great Anglo Saxon empires have simply sent a ship theirs or one purchased with theireldEuropeans within the blockade and third world suppliers of single crops that were no longer a priority suffered terribly The Bengal Famine of 1942 was the fruit of a callous shift of shipping prioritiesThe Empire treated much of the world as private property reuired to maintain the homeland and war then became a means of creating a strong national state that could disregard the interests of its partnersEdgerton is persuasive that the war represents a transition not only from British to American The Accursed global dominance but also from an imperial mind set to a nationalist mind set But Britain was never alone the rhetoric was nonsense and should be seen to be nonsense The British were just the self regarding beneficiaries of their own past piracies In the end the myths were necessary to create a certain spirit or morale helped by the fact that the Nazis really were rather vile Perhaps we did not do bad things simply because we did not need toBut we did This brings us to the peculiarly Anglo Saxon contribution to the long litany of man s inhumanity to man the strategic bombing campaign where the British made a fetish out of area bombingThe brutality of this is fascinating Though we are brought up on Guernica in fact the Nazis retaliated rather than initiated bombing and bombing of civilians was absolutely central to British strategyIndeed it is interesting that it was the Americans that insisted on trying to be precise and break down transport and oil supply while the horrible Bomber Harris insisted on area bombingIt was all part of this idea that war could be won by technology so minimising harms to the homeland Edgerton is particularlyood on this showing not merely a warfare state but an aviation stateThe interwar ideology of world peace being enforced by a British imperial air force links us directly with the mentality behind atomic warfare and the repulsive bombing campaigns of VietnamThe same mentality is behind shock and awe drones and surveillance as means of both crushing alternative military structures and controlling errant asymmetrical tribes people increasingly ourselvesThe Liberal Militarism precursor to neo conservatism and Blairismo of empire is matched by its wastefulness and its intense interest in technology as weapon of state expansion and social controlI think you are beginning to see the importance of this book because alongside the work of Peter Hennessy on the Cold War State and many others we have a picture of the democratic state that disturbsHuge resources are made available to the State justified by war or emergency that can be applied not merely to winning the war but to controlling how we see that war This is totalitarianism liteEdgerton does not spend a lot of time on culture his metier is science and technology but his few examples show how the arts contributed to our own contemporary false consciousness about our pastWe need to start thinking about this His and other historians remorseless engagement with the facts tell us a very different picture about the Second World War than we had been led to believeWe leave the book with a profound sense of confusion because he has dismantled a structure of belief like Nietzsche killing God but has not iven us alternative structure He takes no ideological position so perhaps we have to we might o back to the myth and say simply that this was what we were led to believe and now we have become what we believeThis would be no different from any member of any religion who has inherited norms which scholarship will dismantle easily enough but which the believer chooses not to listen toWhat we have done is inherited a national religion as perhaps all nations have done and the new facts reuire either forgetting or a reform of our beliefCertainly the book has led me to fix some revisions of belief that were already in my mind but has produced some new onesThanks to Hennessy and others I already knew that the United Kingdom had become a warfare state in stages throughout the last century and that welfare was a poor relation made necessary by political pressuresI was never sold on the country having a well functioning democracy so the account of Churchill s cronyism as oligarchical as anything to be found in Putin s Russia did not surprise mePerhaps the historical depth of liberal internationalism as Liberal Militarism was new to me but not wholly a surpriseAfter all I had when young sat in on private meetings at which noble lords and industrialists had plotted with surety the defeat of the Left precisely in order to save the nuclear deterrentAnd finally no one but a fool does not understand imperialism and capitalism as essentially exploitative although without necessarily believing that the exploitation cannot be progressive and modernisingNo what was new was the realisation of just how much the ordinary folk of Britain the British working class had been bamboozled about their own condition and in so many different waysThe worst culprit is ironically the Party in which I spent much of my life the Labour Party Although it did triumph in 1945 and it did shift into a welfare agenda it nev. Nterests and sitting at the heart of a lobal production systemThe British indeed Churchillian vision of war and modernity was challenged by repeated defeat by less well euipped enemies Yet the end result was a vindication of this vision Like the United States a powerful Britain won a cheap victory whi.

A ood debunking of many myths about British war production On the way back from a trip to the UK I dipped into the bookstore at the airport and couldn t resist a 3 for 2 Sonderangebot The main inspiration was David Edgerton s book on the mobilisation of the Empire in Britain s War Machine I Swing Sideways got excited by the tables of British and overseas production as well as the maps of oil pipelines and major centres of war production Topping that is the list of highest awards from the Royal Commission of Awards for Inventions Edgerton weaves contemporary and newly maderaphics very well and I look forward to reading it some day This is a strange book Starts off fantastically and convincingly The Secret of the Great Pyramid goes through a 100 page section which just bombards you with statistics thenets it together again at the endUnbelievably level of research 300 pages long plus 150 pages of footnotes David Edgerton s book turns popular myths about Britain in the Second World War upside down and inside out But a word of warning firstHe is making a point about history and not Dancing with Mr. Darcy giving us a narrative so it would help if you already had some understanding of the course of the second world war and its past historiographyThere are times when the author revels in his piling up of data to prove his points which are very many so that some chapters reuire a fair amount of concentration of effort to understand fullyBut I do not want to put you off the book because it is informative sometimes downright exciting as it shifts mental models and well illustrated with tables maps and extensive notesWhere to begin I was persuaded by the sheer logic of the book that much of what I thought was true was not true it has even changed my view of contemporary political prioritiesHe is persuasive that the British Empire was never notoing to win the Second World War with perhaps my own caveat that a lucky invasion and a bunch of uislings might have made it a very different EmpireThe scale of the trading and financial muscle of the Empire with its Dominions four of the five Big Eyes of Lesca global surveillance today meant that what became the United Nations would conuer in the endBy the end of the book one might even feel sorry for Germany if it were not for the vile nature of its regime blockaded led by a blockhead self murderously running itself into theroundThere is of course the story here of how the US displaced the Empire as hegemonic Western power but Edgerton is persuasive that this was not Britain declining but the US making use of spare capacityThe difference between the two powers in 1939 was that the UK was an efficient Sharpes Trafalgar global trading operation which it still is and the US had still not found a way to mop up the mass unemployed of 1929War permitted that massive surplus capacity to be employed There is a fascinating transfer of capability from the UK to the US where it becomes clear that the US is simply effective at utilising assetsThis is one of the points that come out of the book Britain was so prosperous that it was monstrously wasteful War is wasteful of course but the level of waste here was something elseWhat was happening was that Churchill and his cronies exemplified a peculiar form of Liberal Militarism still operative today that created what amounted to a warfare stateBut the liberal part of that apparent oxymoron included an evident reluctance or perhaps political inability to expend human life with theay abandon of the Central and East EuropeansEdgerton has written elsewhere on this idea of a Liberal Militarist warfare state beyond categories of Right and Left perhaps to the Right that saw total victory arising out of machinesWhat this meant was that the right application of technology to wielding death on your opponents would permit the minimum death to your own side and the minimum disruption of the Punished good life at homeHe makes clear that it was rather aood war for Britons compared to what was experienced on the Continent Not for some individuals or families perhaps but undoubtedly for many young workersIn His To Protect general people were well nourished and the bombing campaigns were isolated to a relatively short period and area When they came they were horrific but most people most of the time were secureBut it was no welfare state the poor the young the old and the vulnerable were shunted aside to ensure that war workers and the military had the best of what wasoingSimilarly the death rates for troops were far less than the bloody milling oing on from the suburbs of Moscow to Berlin Bomber crews and merchant navy men were the worst affected with significant lossesAnd that in itself tells you something one set of men were expended to wreak reater death largely on civilians and the other lost their lives ensuring their fellows were well nourished and armedThe US was to bring to a higher level this Anglo Saxon belief in technology the atom bomb and B 52 as assurance against sending voters kids too lightly to their deathsThis attitude is very much part of what it is to be a modern liberal in the age of democracy and it empowered the State to allocate vast sums to armament and social control for decades to comeNot that any liberal has ever hesitated to send another father s son to their death if it was the right thing to do but only that it was deemed better to have your enemy and his mother killed remotelyIf the British Empire was never Babys First Christmas (Christmas Is For Kids) (Christmas Is For Kids) (Harlequin American Romances, 754) going to be defeated and the German regime is now reliably seen as economically flawed at its very core this was because it was never aloneThe Empire was not just a formal empire but an informal network oflobal relationshi. GUARDIAN BOOKS OF THE YEARThe familiar image of the British in the Second World War is that of the plucky underdog taking on German might David Edgerton's bold compelling new history shows the conflict in a new light with Britain as a very wealthy country formidable in arms ruthless in pursuit of its

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