In Which We Serve 1942
In Which We Serve 1942
How things change: Films were once black and white and are now 3D. There was a time when every town only had 5 or 6 telephones and people would have to queue up in the evening to make a call. Now everyone has a personal phone that they throw away in a year or two. Politicians used to govern the country using standards and ideals they believed in and could convince the voters of. Now our career politicians keep their jobs by doing and saying whatever they think will please us or our representatives (Social media, TV, The Press).
I am probably being disingenuous but I suspect that what we experience as True Governance is actually instigated, designed and implemented by 'The Civil Service' (called 'The Administration' in the States) rather than the politicians.
The theory of a Governing democracy is that the politicians make decisions and the administration implement them. But looking at the utterly non-idealistic, indecisive vacuous politicians here in the UK, it is hard to believe they are anything more than a smoke screen for the bureaucrats to hide behind whilst they govern the country.
And it appears that the bureaucrats are creating a brand new administrative structure. They are slimming down central Government and passing function out to the private sector. So rather than the government taking responsibility for the quality of food we eat, they pay the Foods Standards Agency to do it. They pay the Skills Funding Agency to provide careers advice and teaching to young people. The Learning and Skills Improvement Service controls education. And so on and on. There are hundreds of examples of this process.
The bureaucrats are also passing the responsibilities of government directly out to the people - bypassing the agencies altogether. They do this through the creation of charities. For example, British troops have been in Afghanistan since 2001. In the early days, injured soldiers were returned to Britain for treatment by the MOD (Ministry of Defence - a Government department). By the middle and end of the decade, injuries were climbing and the MOD was running out of space and money (or interest?) to care for them. Along come a Mr and Mrs Parry in 2007 who set up a charity called Help For Heroes. They created a bunch of touching stories about soldiers and their families. They used exaggerated guilt and pathos. They then sold these stories to the public in the same way as dog charities play on the soppiness of bored afternoon TV viewers. Showing sad puppies with big eyes gazing out through bars of indifference -
'You can help Muttley find happiness by pledging just 3 Pounds a month …'
In 6 short years, help For heroes took over the Government's duty of care and now runs at least 4 of the former MOD Medical Recovery Centres and controls numerous other functions such as rehabilitation and training. They have the highest quality publicists who have created a highly funded business paid for directly through the sentimentality of the British populace.
Definition from the OED :-
Hero - noun
A person, typically a man, who is admired for their courage, outstanding achievements, or noble qualities.
Hmmm. I don't wish to sound uncaring, but I'm not sure how having been injured whilst at work makes anyone a Hero:- Soldier in vehicle driving up a road in Helmand drives over IED (Improvised Explosive Device - landmine) which explodes. Unfortunate perhaps. Unexpected? Not really.
Doesn't the use of the term Hero for these unlucky people somehow devalue the meaning of the term?
If these guys are heroes, then what do we call the civilians who sailed to Dunkirk in 1940 to rescue a defeated army? What do we call the French Resistance (Maquis) who kept up their struggle in the Second World War despite huge human cost. What do we call Grace Darling's daring rescue of a foundered ship's crew in the 1830s? What to think about Katniss Everdeen saving Peeta at the end of the 74th Hunger Games in Panem?
These are all examples true Heroes. It's essentially a person making an active decision to sacrifice himself in order to help someone else. You could say the men who volunteered to fight in 1914 were such, although with hindsight and with a modern cynical eye, we'd probably call them naïve. Conscription (the Draft) began in 1916 when the Army was running out of live men. After this date, conscripts were acting unwillingly and so can't really be called heroic. Although doubtless many individuals performed truly heroic acts "beyond the call of duty".
Similarly in the Second War, conscription began from the off and so we can assume many of the soldiers and sailors were unwilling participants.
Which is why the Ministry of Information was created. Its function was to promote the necessity of war, propagandise, and so control and encourage both the military and civilian population.
They did this through censorship, leaflets, posters, radio and most interesting for me, film.
Their first attempts at filmic propaganda were very clunky. They were celebrations of British workers (e.g Builders 1942) and British family life (e.g. Ordinary People 1941).
Later as German bombing of London began to sap the morale of both civilians and soldiers alike, the Ministry of Information made more rousing films which sought to encourage soldiers' fighting zeal and commitment. By revealing the 'heroic' sacrifice of folks back home and the gritty detail of life as a fighting man, they drove home the need for continued mutual participation.
In Which We Serve is one such film that has somehow attracted a cult status.
It kicks off like a typical Ministry Information film on ship building - men in flat caps and soft jackets happily riveting and banging and painting and finally (and excitingly) ramming through the waves on the ship's first sea-trial.
This then is to be our first "Hero". The ship that is.
The somewhat prissy Captain, played by Noel Coward also produced, wrote and co-directed the film
A funny thing I noticed with Noel was just how fast everyone spoke in those days - so fast that their teeth barely moved. I wonder if this is where the oft-used term "stiff upper lip" came from?
Even the children do it:
"I say Mummy, is that Daddy?" is faster than their butler can break wind.
Back at sea, there's some shooting and cheering and then the ship sinks.
Our sailors end up clustered around a float in an oily dangerous sea. So that's that then.
But no. Flashback time.
The scene goes all wavy - I think they are pouring caster oil over a filter in front of the lens.
The rest of the film is composed of flashbacks and flash-forwards showing a series of vignettes of upper class folk (the ships officers being heroic at sea and their homely country-estate life), the middle classes (petty-officers being heroic at sea and their serious home life) and working classes (able-seamen getting shit-scared and their cheery pub-life).
The middle classes all get killed in the Blitz and the working classes all have children which is fine because the Officer's families are just great out in the country estates and will need gardeners after the war.
The Captain is in the water surrounded by his oily dying crew watching the ship finally sinking below the waves.
"She's going down Captain" Someone croaks.
The Captain looks up and brittely calls:
"3 Cheers for the Ship, Boys - hip hip hurray."
Really? A less likely occurrence I have yet to imagine.
When Government and their agencies use the word Hero to describe the dead and injured, they are attempting to justify war.
On the other hand, when society and its 'leaders' can finally describe the dead and injured as victims, then we can have a grown up discussion.
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