Culture History

Brexit Cinema: Dunkirk, 1917 And The Myth Of Britain’s “Good” Empire

Research by the polling company YouGov has found that over two-thirds of people in Britain believe that the country’s former empire was either something to be proud of or was something to be neither proud or ashamed of. Only a small minority were of the opinion that the British Empire was something to be ashamed of. And while the headline figure in the UK was exceeded by a greater number in Belgium who expressed no regret over the existence of its empire the British results match previous polling on the controversial subject of colonialism. Indeed, to make matters worse, the present survey found that a majority of Britons were convinced that colonialism was better for the countries that had been colonised or that it had made no difference to their development. Only 17% of those questioned believed that colonialism had made the colonised worse off. Which is a dismal statistic.

As many commentators have observed, since the Brexit referendum of 2016 there has been a marked growth in revanchist sentiment in Britain. This has been reflected in British popular culture over the last four years with movies like Dunkirk and 1917 delivering a subliminal nationalist message to audiences at home and in the so-called “Anglosphere”. The latter film in particular, with its careful use of regional British (and Irish) accents and multiracial extras in certain scenes, contrasting with the more uniform appearance of the European enemy, is hardly subtle about the supposed modern parallels it is making. This of course obscures the fact that the British Imperial Forces that faced off against their German rivals in 1914-18 were predominately white, English and Protestant. But why let the facts get in the way of a good political parable?

With the presumed anti-war narrative in the movie 1917 kept deliberately ambiguous, playing second fiddle to a straight – if admittedly traumatic – adventure narrative, greater emphasis is placed on a story of plucky Tommies, less in numbers, less in technology, but high in morality and justice, standing up against a larger and better resourced foe while coming to the aid of oppressed and helpless peoples. Which feeds into the British myth of a nation that played the historical role of armed liberator rather than the historical role of armed occupier.

38 comments on “Brexit Cinema: Dunkirk, 1917 And The Myth Of Britain’s “Good” Empire

  1. terence patrick hewett

    Those wicked, wicked Brits and their evil Anglosphere: when you control the language you control the debate.

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    • No you really don’t. For one thing nobody truly controls any language: They evolve. For another thing, the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis is pretty discredited. Language does not “control” human thought, let alone the terms of debate. In the case of Brexit and your nonsense histories, you don’t have a leg to stand on.

      For example you can tell the difference between many fine shades of blue even though a Russian has a distinct word for them that you lack as an English speaker (Do you speak any other languages? I know three.), you have to be skeptical of the idea that other thought or debates are some how “controlled”.

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  2. Total rubbish fiction. For a start the Irish continually invaded England Scotland and Wales, murdered British people and took slaves where else did they get their beloved St Patrick from….Its so easy to ‘forget’ he was British and taken to Ireland as a slave

    Dunkirk was a major and fully acknowledged British defeat what drives some Irish people mad is the fact that the British are not ashamed of Dunkirk

    The first world war was a white peoples war It was also a stupid war but realistically so are most wars

    What today is called the internet didn’t exist until after World War 2 and the first computer was invented in England by an Englishman.

    The British are proud of their history with good reason, a small island under continual attack from another small island took it all fought back, won…Gave the world their language, culture, religion andd industry…

    And, where ever the British went the Irish followed stole land from the indigenous population and killed anyone who tried to stop them.

    How wonderful it must be to be deaf, dumb and blind to facts

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      • john cronin

        Er he has a point. Lots of southern Irish helped run the empire: chap who caused amritsar for example: you could read “If The Irish Ruled the World” about the Irish slavers in west indies.

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        • Celtic tribes fighting each other in prehistory has nothing to do with Ireland, (part of) which has not existed as an independent state until 1922. It has nothing to do with the English as ye were at home in German Saxony and Northern Holland at the time. The English evil empire genocided 200 million people starting and finishing with the native Celts of these islands. As for the uncle Toms going on about Irish “participation” in the empire- black and brown subjects of the empire participated too- hunger will make you join the oppressor. Jews aided the SS at death camps so does Israel bear responsibility for the Holocaust? Try using logic

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          • It might be possible to find a few Celts in England, Scotland and Wales but its very unlikely they would be found in Ireland since about ten years ago Dublin confirmed that Irish DNA is the same as European DNA.

            Where you got the 200 million from is anyone’s guess its not a fact or historically proven and the Irish have killed more Irish people than the English would bother with. Hunger? the famine in Ireland lasted a few years but being Irish means you can dine off it and blame the English forever.

            Of course Jews ;helped’ the Nazis so did everyone in Nazi held countries

            Don’t irritate me with Irish fiction.and considering the south was a Nazi supporter during WW2 don’t use Jews to try to bolster your own fiction

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    • have you sobered up?

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    • For one thing, when you talk of WW2 “The Allies” are called “The Allies” with good reason. Hitler probably couldn’t have been defeated without the cooperation of all the allied countries. Nobody was unimportant. Some countries had more wealth or manpower, but the axis could not have been brought down without unity.

      Secondly, you obviously understand very, very little about Irish people who left The Commonwealth Realms. In the US Irish were one of the least likely ethnic groups to buy farms or land. The Great Famine left many Irish less than eager to go in that direction, and most of them didn’t have the resources or timing for it. In the US Irish gravitated to industrial jobs, trade jobs, police force and firefighting etc. In the US the Civil War would have likely been more prolonged and bloodier without The Irish people.

      Also you forget the Irish of The Spanish speaking world. Bernardo O’Higgins was not just Washington/De Valera of Chile, but also fought with Bolivar earlier on. That movement had many people of indigenous origins.

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  3. David Mac

    “Rule Britannia: Brexit and the End of Empire “an excellent book worth a read, Danny Dorling and Sally Tomlinson argue that the vote to leave the EU was the last gasp of the old empire working its way out of the British psyche. Fuelled by a misplaced nostalgia, the result was driven by a lack of knowledge of Britain s imperial history. They also state that the racist eugenics of the 19th century and early 20th century remains influential today. ‘It is not hard to find’, they write, ‘a direct line from Galton’s beliefs in the advantages of selective breeding of humans through to selective schooling today, where “better” children are kept carefully away from other children, so they will not only not learn together but also not mix socially and, later, not breed together’.

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  4. War movies are the biggest Rorschach test known to man. People have a tendency to take from them what they brought with them, rather than what the director intended. Long before being exposed to any theory along those lines, I was able to figure this out just by watching my peers. I remember once listening to Oliver Stone being interviewed and thinking, “Poor Man. The effect he thinks his movies Platoon and Born on The Fourth of July have on people, and how they really do effect some people- especially some kids- are two different things.” I haven’t actually watched 1917, for reasons discussed below.

    Francois Truffaut was at least rumored to have said “There are no anti-war, war movies.” Whether he really said that or not, it’s pretty clear that any war movie is only anti-war to people who are already predisposed towards that interpretation walking into the theater. At one point Clinton Eastwood made a claim that “All war movies are anti-war, if they are from the POV of the common soldier.” I’ve never been convinced of that myself. (Personally any time I see a shot of a soldier with messed up glasses, that makes me lean against the idea war is romantic, but that’s just me!!!)

    I did one have a time convincing an African American millenial of the significance the USSR/Russia had in defeating The Third Reich. After going in circles where he would accept that Russia accepted horrible loses but that didn’t mean they had much of a role in actually taking down Hitler. At the point where I was sort of getting annoyed he said, “What you are saying is that only White People can defeat other White People. Russia and Germany are all white countries. The US and UK are more diverse, so you make it sound like they just couldn’t defeat the Germans because of it.” So obviously there could be some people who read a “Benign British Empire” into making WWI British Troops more diverse than the Germans. However it’s my understanding that there were Indian Troops, Caribbeans and people from other colonies in The British Empire during WWI.

    In the end I would probably fear glorification of war more than glorification of The British Empire. The British Empire is never coming back.

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    • 1917 is a masterful film. It truly is thrilling, shocking, and incredibly well done. At least in the first 30 mins or so and in several scenes thereafter.

      But it’s not hard to detect the “myth” dictating the narrative, and the artistic choices made. In fact it is glaringly obvious. The UK vs EU analogue is there but so are many others.

      In all honesty, it is a UKIP Brexiteer wet dream of a movie. Probably only disturbed by the presence of a multiethnic cast in some scenes.

      One scene in particular, set on a truck, is so clearly artificial in nature, so clearly contrived, that it borders on insulting.

      Yes, the UK forces used multiracial imperial levies in Europe. But it was overwhelmingly an English affair. And the races most certainly did not mix in the easy manner portrayed in the film.

      Accounts of what really happened are plentiful. The whole thing was a carefully crafted lie. For people who probably oppose Brexit but who are raised on the myths that gave it birth. And so reflect them in their own art.

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      • If I were a movie director, I would probably have serious reservations about making a war movie or not make one at all. One brutal reality: Stuff that would leave me thinking war is a terrible thing that should only be done as extreme last resort, can have other people Jonesing to sign up and join the infantry.

        That’s thing about a lot of war movies. Sometimes the same film can be anti-war or anti-war. I’m willing to bet people could take Remain as well as leave message from 1917, as the EU seems to have prevented more European conflicts. I remember first watching “Platoon”. My father actually forced me and my brother to watch it as a punishment!!!!! We got into a fist fight over whether the US should have gotten into the Vietnam War, so he forced us both to watch the film with no bathroom breaks, no snacks, and no looking away from the screen, covering or closing our eyes or anything. It wasn’t long before I figured out that half the kids in my class who had seen it all wanted to join the infantry. Those who didn’t often took the message that you should never, ever, ever say the Vietnam War was wrong because to do so was “harming Vietnam Vets” who had “suffered enough”.

        I might see 1917 if it’s still in theaters when the coronavirus blows over. War movies often make me a little skeptical…..and I’m not alone in this.

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        • I think it would be hard to get a “Remain” impression out if the movie. It doesn’t play that way. There’s no scene of British and German soldiers realising the futility of their enmity, or some scene for deeper thought. Yes, war is terrible. The movie admits that. But… Look at the heroics of it too, the brave Tommy vs the ghastly Hun. It’s a Remainers vision of WWI but perverted by modern British mythology.

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          • That’s exactly how war movies can be such tricky things. To your lights some expression of German remorse at the war would be required to support a Remainer vision of WWI. However, I can tell you “Platoon” has no references to anti-war movements, activists, or coherent political opposition to the Vietnam War-let alone spitting. Yet several of my classmates came out of the movie Platoon with a conclusion that “If the government decides to have a war, you should support the troops and don’t say anything if you think maybe the war is wrong. If you oppose the war people are going to start spitting on the returning soldiers again. Look at the movie they’ve already been through enough. How can you let them get spat on coming home.” To a lesser extent some managed to take that message from “Born on The Fourth of July” despite that fact that the main character became an anti-war activist.

            Heck the real Ron Kovic was a Marine served at a similar time and in a similar area to another Marine who came back from the war as a Class-A war mongering hawk. To some degree that’s culture at play. Kovic was a Catholic from fundamentally liberal New York and the other who became such a hawk was raised a “Southern boy”.

            How does this happen if the movie has no such message? Because they were exposed to such notions in the greater culture, that’s how. If you are an English Remainer who strongly believes that the EU deserves a significant part to most of the credit for Europe avoiding major wars of this kind, and are disposed to take an anti-war message from a “grunts in the trenches film” you probably don’t need a scene of German soldier waxing philosophical about the pointlessness of war. You are going to look at 1917 and even Dunkirk and think “Good God!! What were those Brexiteers thinking?!!?! We need the EU so nothing like this happens again!!”

            It’s true that different cultural contexts matter. I’ve watched how these things work with regards to war movies, Dolchstosslegende, and why people from different walks of life support and oppose wars that their country didn’t really have to fight…..well most of my life!!!

            It’s a very, very strange often unpredictable thing in my experience.

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      • john cronin

        My father’s relatives from Cork and Kerry fought in WW1, and many of em went over to London in 1940 to volunteer for the British armed forces: no one conscripted em: they volunteered. They had the common sense to realise that if the Wehrmacht was marching through London, it would be marching through Dublin six months later.

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  5. terence patrick hewett

    Britain really is not like Europe: it really isn’t.

    In the grand abstract terms of the Enlightenment, the legitimacy of government derives from the consent of the governed: the result of two centuries of political struggle for the rights and liberties of ordinary citizens and of governance “of the people, by the people and for the people.” The Anglo-Saxon tradition of liberal democracy, hammered out in the United Kingdom after 1688 and the United States after 1776.

    But in the formative years of the American colonies it was freedoms for only one sort of people: for the blacks and the indigenous in America there was only slavery and genocide: for ironically the US was founded on, and derived its wealth from, slavery, land theft and genocide. The ‘founding freedoms’ were in many respects the freedom to pursue these goals without interference.

    The concept of ‘terra nullius’ was used to justify land theft on a continent-wide scale: those whose land which was stolen didn’t become citizens until 1924. The 1763 Royal Proclamation drew a boundary along the Appalachian Mountains which forbade settlers stealing any more land to the West of the line. This, together with “writs of assistance” was one of the major causes of the War of Independence.

    While slavery was never legal in GB (Ref. the Somerset case 1772), it was the basis of the North Atlantic economy, with New England providing the goods and services for the American tobacco and West Indian sugar plantations: we the British fuelling the whole lot by operating the Golden Triangle slave route, which was finally run through companies in London and Liverpool: the Scots dominating the slave plantations of the West Indies but also heavily investing in the Triangle from companies in London.
    The failed 1690’s colonisation scheme of the Isthmus of Panama on the Gulf of Darién which bankrupted parts of Scotland was an attempt by the Kingdom of Scotland to become a world trading nation and was the driver for the 1707 Acts of Union. The Scottish landed aristocracy and mercantile class saw that their best chance of being part of a major trading power would be to share in the growth of the English Empire and that Scotland’s future would lie in Union. Much is made of Scottish influence in the United States Declaration of Independence but a major driver of Scottish involvement was the fact that the English had cut them out of the Golden Triangle slave trade; instead, allowing them to control the more onerous West Indian slave plantations: they wanted a bigger slice of the blackbird pie.

    The terms “American” and “British” were at that time in the process of being formulated. “Writs of Assistance” were another cause of discontent: “the rights of Englishmen” were the perceived traditional rights of English and British subjects. Many of the colonists argued that their traditional rights as Englishmen were being violated. This subsequently became another of the primary justifications for the American Revolution of 1775. The American Revolution is better understood as the Fourth English Civil War and the Virginia born Englishman George Washington, in common with the Connecticut born Englishman Benedict Arnold, served both sides at one time or another; GW displaying the better judgement in choosing the winning one. Initially, the rebels wished that if they were to be taxed they should have representation in the Westminster Parliament, something that Britain with its recent history of republican civil war could not risk. The old aristocratic society and the army suffered a defeat from which they never fully recovered and power passed to the middle classes; the merchants and industrialists of the emerging Industrial Revolution who went on to create the empire with which Britain will be always be associated.
    After the American Revolution, Horace Walpole stated that a new chapter had been opened in the history of their country; what America would now become it was impossible to say but that a new nation had been born and that the old world by its creation had been changed forever.

    And changed it was: historian Alan Macfarlane argues that England never had a peasantry in the way that other European countries did, or as extensive an established church, or as powerful a monarchy. English society thus had a more individualistic cast than the rest of Europe which was centralised, hierarchical and feudal; and sowed the seeds of our constitutional conflict with the EU of today

    It was the most individualistic elements of English society; the most liberal fringe of English political thought, the Whig and Republican theorists such as James Harrington who came to predominate. The liberal tradition of Edward Coke, John Hampden, James Harrington, Algernon Sidney, John Milton, John Locke, Pitt the Elder, Edmund Burke, Earl Grey, Viscount Palmerston, Richard Cobden, John Bright and of Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson.
    All of this made America an outlier compared with England, which was an outlier compared with Europe. The US was the offspring of English liberalism and carried it out to its logical conclusion to become the freest and most liberal country ever known to man.
    Of course the conflict did not end at Yorktown. It continued with The War of 1812: a 32-month military conflict between the United States of America and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, together with its North American colonies and its American Indian allies. The outcome resolved many issues which remained from the American War of Independence, but involved no boundary changes. The United States declared war against Britain in 1812 for several reasons, including trade restrictions brought about by Britain’s continuing war with France, the impressment of American merchant sailors into the Royal Navy, British support of American Indian tribes against American expansion, outrage over perceived insults to US national honour after humiliations on the high seas, and American interest in annexing British North American territory (part of modern-day Canada) which had been denied to them in the settlement ending the American Revolutionary War.
    47 years later in 1861 the American Civil War began: many historians regard Gettysburg as the deciding battle of the English Civil War which began in 1642.
    But if the Confederacy lost the war; it won the peace: the Jim Crow laws began to be enacted in 1876 and only came to an end in 1965.

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    • But individualism and liberty for whom? A ruling class or all classes? Yes, UK is not quite like the European norm. Such as exists. But the European norm does not have the intense class divide the UK has. Nowhere does lineage have quite the same effect or money exist in quite the same intergenerational, centuries-long manner.

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      • It’s just a bad history Seamus he’s invoking. England has a long history of “saying itself out” of European institutions and wanting back in a few generations later.

        His understanding of The American Revolution, antebellum US and its Civil War is so wrong about almost everything, I don’t know where to start. He probably doesn’t intend this, but many of his arguments remind me of The Confederate Flag Wavers who compare Poor Old Abe to Oliver Cromwell!!!!!

        These American conflicts and problems didn’t have that much in common with the English Civil War. And until an initially fringe reparation movement started everyone agreed that the slave plantation economy was on the whole and despite the wealth of a few a crappier economy than the USSR. To me it’s bizarre to see liberals using arguments that originally belonged to Confederate Flag Fanatics.

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    • You are wrong about a number of counts.

      First of all, in the antebellum US the Free North was economically Light Years ahead of The South where slavery was common. Slavery did make small minority very rich, but for the average person living in that economy it was extreme poverty. While abolitionism in the US, like in many countries at that time with active abolitionist movements, was very much a movement that centered moral arguments to a degree that would be hard to imagine in our more cynical times., make no mistake about it’s economic consensus. Nearly all US abolitionists believed that an economy with only free labor was superior to that of a slave economy, and with good reason. The North who on top of industry had a massive and more modern agriculture economy based on wheat, hay, corn, potatoes, cattle, apples, and more. The North had more railroads, more libraries, more schools, more modern cities and so on. During the US Civil War Irishmen fighting for the Union probably outnumbered the ones in the Confederate Army somewhere in the neighborhood of 4 to 1 and possibly as high as 7 to 1. However Irishmen were noted for “standing out less” in the Confederate Army because their heights were more typical of lower ranked Confederate Soldiers!!!! Since most of them would have been children during The Famine, this isn’t saying anything good about how much poor whites actually lived!!!!!

      Frederick Douglas a former slave believed the free North to be a better society for the economy. He had escaped expecting the North to be poorer with no slaves but found to his “great surprise” that the reverse was true. When he had his first close male friend as a free man(after marrying the woman who helped him escape!!!!!!), it was with a factory foreman. Douglas noticed that his friend a black factory foreman could afford books and luxuries that 80% of slave owners could not dream of. Until his dying days he maintained that while the slave was obviously the biggest victim of that system it was ultimately bad for the large majority of free-people as well. Generations of American economists have in the large majority concurred. Until there was a movement for reparations, the only people who defended slavery as an economic system were Confederate flag wavers.

      Early in The American Revolution the “free-states” by the time of Civil War had at least initiated programs to phase out slavery before The US Constitution was written. Pennsylvania the first state to start a program to phase out slavery, passed the law a full 15 months before Washington defeated Cornwallis at Yorktown. The question of slavery was the most divisive one among the Framers of the Constitution. While proslavery factions got some of what they wanted the anti-slavery faction managed to keep them stating slavery holding is a long term property right or even using the word versus “enslaved person”. Many of the anti-slavery people believed that having won those victories they could contain slavery and it would die out.

      Also trying to link The American Revolution and Civil War with the English Civil War is even worse nonsense. For one thing US Independence from Britain was somewhat interdependent with the Revolutions of nations like Haiti, Mexico, Peru, Chile, Ecuador, and company. Also the US Founders sought to fill the US Constitution with safeguards against a man like Oliver Cromwell rising. The biggest thing they chose was a trias politica with a powerful Supreme Court and Judicial System, a President who isn’t that powerful as executive Presidencies go, and a Congress that has many, many immunities and protects. For example when Johnson prorogued Parliament many Americans who watched the news were shocked he could actually do that. Congress can only end its own session. The President can call an emergency session but all he can do about ending a Congressional session is under “extraordinary circumstances” broker a Compromise between factions in Congress on the matter. Schools in the US are almost as negative about Oliver Cromwell than the ones in the Irish Republic, albeit for different reasons. The US schools actually focus on Cromwell’s “horribleness” in England and teach the kids about how Cromwell is the “Father to All Modern Tyrants” and how much of the Constitution was written to prevent a man like him from coming to power.

      The Revolutionaries and Constitutional Framers of the US would have also had a low opinion of Edmund Burke, John Locke and many many of the other English thinkers you mentioned. They also had a low opinion of Adam Smith and opted for a mixed economy. Furthermore they didn’t believe in political parties at all. They had originally wanted to create a Republic with no political parties at all. When humans loved their heuristics too much for that, terms like “whig” came back into use but meant different things. When Abraham Lincoln called himself a believer in the “whig system” that would have meant “supporter of a mixed economy” in today’s terms. Not at all what it meant in Britain.

      Nor was the American Revolution all about English liberalism. The ideas of French and German thinkers were also important. Montesquieu invented the idea of Separations of Powers-an idea central to US government but largely rejected by Britain.

      You are also wrong about a good deal more than I have room for here. However, comparing The English Civil War to the American Revolution is ridiculous.

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  6. terence patrick hewett

    Dáithíerix’ adventures in Faragium

    All is quiet in the small Hibernian village of Tír na nÓg. All Hibernia is under Roman control except for the one small village of Tír na nÓg whose inhabitants are made invincibly strong by a magic poitín brewed by the druid Fintanobollix.

    Centurion Brexit Bonus – commander of the Roman garrison of the fortified camp of Dubhlinnium – sends a transvestite Roman spy called Gayleon into the village to discover the secret of their great strength. The spy’s identity is revealed when he loses his false ronnie, shortly after discovering the existence of the magic poitín – whereupon he escapes and reports his discovery to Brexit Bonus.

    Brexit Bonus – hoping to overthrow the Roman tyrant Bibulous Junker – orders Fintanobollix captured and interrogated for the recipe – but to no avail. The warrior Dáithíerix learns of Fintanobollix’s capture and infiltrates the Roman camp in a dung cart and hears Brexit Bonus revealing his intended rebellion to Monstrus Selmayronicus his second-in-command.

    Following Dáithíerix’ suggestion – Fintanobollix pretends to hand over the secret of the poitín but demands a difficult ingredient – Gur Cake. Whilst Brexit Bonus’ soldiers try to find a gurrier – Dáithíerix and Fintanobollix relax and when the cake arrives eats it all and consoles Brexit Bonus that the poitín may be made without it after all. The ingredients are finally found but a potion is prepared that causes all the hair of the drinker to grow at an accelerated pace.

    The Romans are tricked into drinking this potion and before long all of them have long hair and beards. When Brexit Bonus pleads with Fintanobollix to make an antidote, the druid makes a cauldron of fake potion – and also prepares the real magic poitín for Dáithíerix.
    .
    As Fintanobollix and Dáithíerix escape they are stopped by a huge army of Roman reinforcements commanded by Bibulous Junker. Upon meeting Dáithíerix and Fintanobollix, Bibulous Junker hears of Brexit Bonus’ intentions against himself and deports Brexit Bonus and his garrison to Londinium and frees Dáithíerix and Fintanobollix for giving him the information but reminding them that they are still enemies.

    Fintanobollix and Dáithíerix return to their village where they celebrate victory with poitín all round.

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  7. terence patrick hewett

    Next Episode:

    Dáithíerix the Gael’s adventures in Britannia:

    After an unsuccessful rebellion in Britannia led by Queen Boudathatchica the Roman tyrant Bibulous Junker has invaded and conquered Britannia but only after surmounting great difficulties caused by the Britons’ habit of breaking off battle for 15 minutes every half-hour to drink an infusion of dried herbs.

    But two villages remain independent – one village in Hibernia called Tír na nÓg and the other village in Britannia called Camalot – or as it is affectionately called by the locals – Camelcach. One villager called Prematurclimax is dispatched to Hibernia to enlist the help of the druid Fintanobollix to supply magic poitín to the Brittonic rebels. It is decided to send the warrior Dáithíerix who isPrematurclimax’s first cousin once removed – and Obolix the Cloch Fhada maker and delivery-man to help transport a barrel of the poitín. But while beating up a Roman galley in the Muir Éireann, Obolix mentions the mission, which is reported to the Roman high command in Britain.

    Meanwhile, the druid Fintanobollix’s Brittonic cousin Faragentorix also a druid and part-time kipper salesman – warns Bibulous Junker to beware The Ides of March. He turns out to be right – on the XXIXth of March Monstrus Selmayronicus who is Bibulous Junker’s second-in-command and whose sanity is sadly Descendit in Latrina assassinates Bibulous Junker in the Senate. Monstrus Selmayronicus is IV Denarii short of a Solidus and has made his horse Coveneoborus a Consul and Senator Hoganheroicus Tribune of the Pagus.

    In Londinium – the barrel of smuggled poitín is confiscated by the Romans from a pub cellar owned by the gimp Dipsomaniax – along with all the barrels of warm beer and boxes of chateau-cardboard. The Roman army sets about tasting everything, trying to find which one has the poitín and soon the whole maniple is hopelessly banjaxed. Whereupon Dáithíerix and Obolix steal all the barrels labelled “Dipsomaniax” – but Obolix is himself molto umbriago and starts a scrap with some Roman legionaries.

    During the commotion a passing knacker steals the cart with the barrels. Prematurclimax and Dáithíerix leave Obolix at Dipsomaniax’s pub to sleep off his head but while Prematurclimax and Dáithíerix go in search of the Brittonic messer – the Romans capture the sleeping Obolix and Dipsomaniax and raze the pub.

    Obolix wakes up in the Tower of Londinium and frees Dipsomaniax and after a search to find the poitín they discover it has been used as a pick-me-up for a camógaíocht team. After this team wins their game, the protagonists seize the poitín and escape by boat down the river Thamesis where the Romans destroy the barrel and release the poitín into the water which causes a widespread and embarrassing erectoral problem in the male population for some months to come.

    Back at Camalot, Dáithíerix eases the Britons’ disappointment by feigning to make the poitín with herbs later revealed to be tea. With this psychological boost the village prevails against the Romans.

    Dáithíerix and Obolix return home to celebrate with poitín all round. Tea will never catch on here says the druid Fintanobollix but his other cousin the druid Bassettorix thinks it may just do that.

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  8. terence patrick hewett

    Remember Old Virginee:

    Look at some Gillray and Cruikshank cartoons whilst taking in the Rakes Progress by Hogarth and Thomas Rowlandson’s the English Dance of Death. Then start on Boudicca and work your way through history taking in the Roman Conquest, the Saxon Invasion, Alfred, Harold, the Norman Conquest, the Magna Carta, Edward I, Edward II, Edward III, the Black Death, the Peasants Revolt, the third Poll Tax, the Lollards, Henry V, Henry VII, Henry VIII, Wolsey, Thomas Cromwell, Mary I, Elizabeth I, Walsingham, Richard Topcliffe, the Douai Priests, Dr John Dee, James I (James VI of Scotland), Guy Fawkes et al, Charles I, Oliver Cromwell, the first three English Civil Wars, the Levellers, the Diggers, the Ranters, the Shakers, the Quakers, the Seekers, the Muggletonians, the Fifth Monarchy Men, William and Mary, Pitt the Younger, George III, Pitt the Elder, the fourth English Civil War commonly called the American Revolution, the Agricultural Revolution, the Industrial Revolution, Richard Cobden, John Bright, Macaulay, Nelson, Wellington, Victoria, the Chartists, Sir Robert Peel, Palmeston, Disraeli, Gladstone, Daniel O’Connell, Lloyd George, Churchill, Atlee, Enoch Powell, Thatcher, the fourth Poll Tax (see the third Poll Tax). Or you can read 1066 and All That by Sellar and Yeatman. Not forgetting to take in Chaucer (for glossary see The A.B.C. of Reading by Ezra Pound), Piers Ploughman, Shakespeare, Milton’s Areopagitica, Thomas Hobbes, Pilgrims Progress, John Locke, Adam Smith, the Authorized Bible, the Vulgate, the Douai Bible, Isaac Newton, Izaak Walton’s The Compleat Angler, Cobbett’s Rural Rides, John Stuart Mill, Samuel Pepys, Edmund Burke, Dr Johnson, William Blake, Thomas Paine, Thomas Babington Macaulay, Dickens, Karl Marx, the Bab Ballads by W S Gilbert, Mayhew’s London Labour and the London Poor, A Child of the Jago, The Diary of a Nobody by George and Weedon Grossmith, Three Men on the Bummel (chapter 14), England Their England by A G Macdonell, George Orwell, P G Wodehouse, Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons, the Rainbow, the Boys Own Paper, the Magnet, the Beano, the Dandy, the Wizard, the Eagle, Viz and the Fat Slags and the Wordsmiths at Gorsemere by Sue Limb. After all that, you may concur with George Bernard Shaw that “It is impossible for an Englishman to open his mouth without making some other Englishman hate or despise him.” Well, you would be right. We have spent the last two thousand years trying to kill each other in the most horrible ways we can devise. Although we have done for an awful lot of foreigners on the way, we reserve our most vicious bile and malice for our own. British history, with its tradition of satire, scandal and sedition, is about settling old scores, real or imagined and we can hardly wait to put the boot in. However, not being a cynic, I am more inclined to the view propagated by Laurence Sterne’s Tristram Shandy. “L—d! said my mother, what is this story all about? —A Cock and a Bull said Yorick—And one of the best of its kind, I ever heard.”
    :

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  9. “The latter film in particular, with its careful use of regional British (and Irish) accents and multiracial extras in certain scenes, contrasting with the more uniform appearance of the European enemy, is hardly subtle about the supposed modern parallels it is making. This of course obscures the fact that the British Imperial Forces that faced off against their German rivals in 1914-18 were predominately white, English and Protestant. But why let the facts get in the way of a good political parable?”

    Not sure why you include “Protestant” in the second (comparative) line here when you make no allusion to religion in the first. I fervently hope, and genuinely believe, that it wasn’t to counter the mention of “Irish accents” in the first line, for that would be akin to you suggesting that one cannot be both Protestant and wholly Irish. Then again, it could hardly be there to counter the “multiracial extras” of the first line, as Protestantism is not a signifier of race and besides you already countered the multiracial stuff with “white, English”. And why specifically “Protestant” and not just Christian? I’m at a loss to understand this.

    Incidentally, over 1 million Indian soldiers fought for Britain against the Germans in World War I. Not an inconsequential number. Quite rightly, the actor Laurence Fox was recently taken to task for trying to write them out of history. Now you’re complaining about a film trying to write them into history. Hard to win, isn’t it?

    And as for your chaffing at the “regional accents” and dismissing it as a modern parallel. Really? Are you serious? far from a modern parallel it’s actually historically accurate. For every plummy Oxbridge accent to be heard on the British front lines there were literally thousands of regional (English, Irish, Scots, and Welsh) accents. As in every other war, it was the working classes that paid the price.

    I haven’t seen this film, nor do I intend to, but I’ve no doubt it is indeed something of a political parable. What war film isn’t? But I’m afraid you could be accused of trying to create the same thing.

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    • I mention the race, nationality and religion because that is how it was celebrated at the time and that was the predominant cultural milieu of the British forces on the Western Front. That was the majority “ethnicity” of the Tommies. By late 1917 even the so-called Irish regiments contained large English contingents and some sub-units were Irish in name only.

      In a sense it was two Teutonic forces facing off against each other. I say this because of how the cultures in both empires interacted and viewed each other at the start of the 20th century. That was the era of Germanicists/Anglo-Saxonists like JRR Tolkien and many other young men across British colleges and universities.

      Yes, hundreds of thousands of British imperial subjects served in WWI. But not in the manner depicted in the movie, alongside, mixed throughout “white” regiments. And not with the complete lack of racism as the movie depicts. Or even class tensions, which the movie also omits in any substantive manner. No real impression of lions led by donkeys here. No Blackadder style cynicism. The idea that British army units in WWI looked like contemporary 21st century ones was a deliberate choice not a historical one by the film-makers.

      The scene with the host of regional British accents and a lone person of colour is so artificial it probably needs to be seen to be appreciated. It is very deliberate and very obvious.

      As stated already, racism, class tensions, the futility of war, these things are largely absent in the film. It is an adventure story but one influenced by present day politics, politics that are a weird mix of London multicultural, multiracial liberalism and North of England Brexitism.

      The ahistorical fuss about people of colour being in the movie didn’t take away from the fact that Brexit supporters otherwise raved about it.

      It’s worth watching. As a movie it has its moments, especially the opening ones. But the early 21st century politics and culture of Greater England are too evident to make it a neutral watch.

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  10. Many thanks for that, ASF. Points taken, although I still think “Christian” would have been more apposite than “Protestant”. For example, Tolkien was devoutly Catholic and his great friend, CS Lewis, devoutly Protestant, but they thought this a very minor matter in the greater scheme of things. Simply put, they shared a Christian fundamentalist worldview that boiled everything down to a constant battle between good (i.e. Christianity) and evil (everything else). Indeed, The Lord of the Rings is an allegory on this very theme. The worldview of Tolkien and Lewis was very widely held across Christianity at the time.

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    • The head of the Kingdom, the head of the Empire, and the head of the Church were united in one person and one family in Britain during WWI. This was the very German House of Saxe-Coburg until it rebranded as Windsor towards and after the end of the conflict. So the Church of England and Anglican Protestantism, as well as minor Protestant faiths, was an important driver in imperial and martial thought during Britain’s campaign. It was the spiritual and cultural motivator.

      The wartime sermons of the Bishop of London, Arthur Winnington-Ingram, were far from unique:

      “Everyone that loves freedom and honour…are banded in a great crusade – we cannot deny it – to kill Germans: to kill them not for the sake of killing, but to save the world; to kill the good as well as the bad, to kill the young men as well as the old, to kill those who have shown kindness to our wounded as well as those fiends who crucified the Canadian sergeant, who supervised the Armenian massacres, who sank the Lusitania, and who turned the machine guns on the civilians of Aerschott and Louvain – and to kill them lest the civilization of the world should itself be killed.”

      This is very different from the myth of the Great War, in popular UK culture anyway. These types of sermons, delivered by thousands of Protestant clergymen to soldiers at the Front make for chilling reading. Of course, Catholics and others could deliver similar stuff. And Germany was guilty as well. But the regular British Army in Europe was very much a Protestant institution in terms of its membership and institutional links to the State and the identity of the state as a muscular, militant and masculine Protestant one.
      There is some interesting research on this little discussed subject that I’ll try and dig out.

      Final point, and thanks for your own. One only has to look at some of the studies of parish church decline in the immediate aftermath of WWI in England as congregations were devastated by their losses, particularly through the recruitment of locally raised units and “pals” units which was socially destructive in so many communities. It was Protestant Anglican and minor Protestant faith communities that suffered the most.

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      • You’d be surprised at the degree to which even “lions led by donkeys” themes can in fact feed a Dolchostosslegende. Just imply that some of those donkey were {from the subset of society is being blamed} and that’s enough. In fact, you probably don’t even need that much. Sometimes why the donkeys allegedly “stabbed the lions in the back” doesn’t even need an explanation with some people in a nihilistic enough political climate.

        Having spent most of my life at odds with a Dolchstosslegende (as in starting at age 9) and having observed some similar stuff in Russian society once I learned the language and traveled there, I can tell you the phenomena is more 100x insidious than the supposed Jewish conspiracies in “Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion” and the portrayal of the Demon Azazel in the movie “Fallen” with Denzel Washington as a Police Detective put together. They are certain something more toxic and more adaptable to different political and cultural climates than Fintan O’Toole’s hobby-horse of utterly baseless self-pity.

        I’ve seen people come out of the book and the movie “Johnny Got His Gun” with a pro-war “You shouldn’t question the war, because it will harm the soldiers” message.”Johnny Got His Gun” is pretty much the most anti-glamor, anti-glorification of adventure and comradery during war, story I can think of. Things you would perceive as anti-war, aren’t going to be perceived that way by everyone. Since the British Empire is not coming back and I doubt Brexit will enhance Britain’s ability to be an interventionist over what they could do in the EU, I’m way more afraid of that stuff.

        Speaking of Teutonic people on both “sides” of WWI, and since you are something of a language revivalist in Ireland. WWI in The US pretty much was the end of North American German and New York Dutch (which sounds rather Germanic). Basically German and Dutch speakers in the US (many member of both groups had German or Dutch speaking ancestors who fought in the American Revolution). Sojourner Truth and Martin VanBuren were Dutch speakers. Now a Brooklyn accent and a few loanwords is all that’s left of that dialect of Dutch.

        People were forced to abandon their language and culture more or less overnight.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Some of that in our crazy times I think is related to a sort of “Critical Race Theory” perspective and more generally a penchant for absolutist accounts of things. People don’t want to accept that a lot of the victims of WWI were white Protestant Englishmen. Why? That complicates the whole picture of The British Empire under today’s intellectual climate.

        One idea people have these days is that absolutely everything is a zero sum game. That one man’s gain is another’s loss and one man’s suffering must be generating fat profits for somebody-and the profits in this way of thinking must correlate pretty directly to the suffering. Part of that is related to Marxist doctrine as well. Basically if most Britons slaughtered or maimed on The Western Front were Englishmen, then the choices are narrowed down to “Only the Rich prospered from British Empire” and the CRT crowd wants to paint every Englishman as a beneficiary or “The British Empire benefited the colonists”. In this day and age nobody wants to see WWI as essentially a senseless loss of life, because of that distribution obsessed thinking.

        Of course, any fortunes made by WWI’s worst war profiteers (same with most wars!!!!) were peanuts compared to the scale of destructive and misery sowed by WWI. Even for those relative few wars that were justified or at least unavoidable, the industries that prosper from it, may have way less benefit to the overall economy than widely assumed.

        Really that distribution/zero sum message is dangerous. There will always be somebody cynical and amoral enough to try to make a profit off war if they believe such profits “must be out there somewhere”.

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        • You make some wonderful points here (and further above) Grace. This penchant ‘for absolutist accounts for things” that you mention particularly rings a bell. People crave simple answers to everything – right/wrong, good/evil, black/white, friend/enemy, us/them – when there is very seldom a simple answer, or even a singular answer, to anything. It’s this craving that elevates populist blowhards into high office.

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  11. Okay, many thanks again. I’m far from an expert on WWl, as I’m sure you’ve guessed, but this has piqued my interest, so I’ll take a look at a range of social/historical work on it.

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  12. I’ve been reading about the attitude of Cardinal Francis Alphonsus Bourne, the Archbishop of Westminster and head of the Catholic Church in England and Wales Catholics at the time, to WW1. You are certainly right in one respect, the wartime sermons of the (Anglican) Bishop of London, Arthur Winnington-Ingram, were far from unique. They were more than matched by his Catholic counterparts. Indeed, so supportive were English Catholics, clergy and laity, to the British war effort that it led to the easing of discriminatory laws and practices against them. So much so, it was often said afterwards that “WW1 was good for Catholics”.

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    • Yep, very much so. I’ve seen it described as the moment when English Catholics came in from the cold. Also interesting to read about the schism between the Catholic hierarchies in Ireland and Britain as the former group opposed conscription. There was a real split there between some bishops and harsh words between both behind closed doors.

      German invective was equally as bad, in some respects.

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      • German invective at that time was off the charts insane. Of course, Germany was not the sole culprit for WWI that has been portrayed, but their war-mongering at that time was pretty nuts.

        It was no accident that this was the country that upon losing would end up with Hitler 18 years later. If you read the book “Male Fantasies” by Klaus Theweleit you will see some almost Ted Bundy-like stuff coming from a small subset of disgruntled WWI vets-most of whom came from semi-elite backgrounds, who joined the Freikorps and mostly laid the foundations and were often involved in the rise of Hitler. I don’t particularly like the title of the book as that implies this stuff is far more typical of men when in reality it’s about a pretty warped minority. (If I thought this was typical of men, I’d be a Nun.) Nor do I agree with the very Freudian framework Theweleit uses to explain these utterly psychotic desires expressed. However, Theweleit still deserves some credit for doing what few people will: Wading through the muck and grime, of how these clowns (The Freikorps) used to fantasize about such bizarre and graphic scenes of rape and butchery: Some of them had me surprised a veteran of the WWI trenches could talk of butchering women in such an almost dreamlike fashion but they did-not hard to see how that imagination led to The Holocaust and some of Mengele’s experiments.

        I tried looking for more general labels for such men, and to convince people that such characters are a thing, I always ran into the accusation of stigmatizing veterans (even though I was clear that this is a tiny, tiny minority) and/or insisting that this just described PTSD. No this was nothing like ordinary PTSD, this was like Ted Bundy on bad psychedelic trip. I’d known people with war related and non-war related PTSD. It can be a horrible condition, but it doesn’t scare me!!!

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        • Do such individuals come about through a subset of soldiers being desensitised, super pumped on adrenalin for prolonged periods, existing outside social norms by necessity, finding purpose through extreme life and death situations and goal oriented tasks, and just total war necessitating the recruitment of men who would otherwise have been excluded or held in check in peacetime?

          Would that partially explain the excesses of the Black and Tans and Auxiliaries in Ireland after WWI? A similar bunch of “extreme sports” addicted veterans? And why so many went on to military service throughout the British Empire, unable to return to civilian life?

          If not for the existence of the empire and the need for tens of thousands of men to police it I wonder if the UK would have seen its own Freikorps? Which the Tans and Auxies were in a way, albeit in service of the State. Did the superior trappings of imperialism, the lebensraum of empire and the relative continuity of the political system save the Brits from a real fascist challenge from within?

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          • I don’t have that many answers on why such individuals exist, simply that they do.

            I have always leaned to the idea people are influenced by their genes and environment long before that was widely accepted. My guess is that the kind of people who would become the Freikorps type extremists probably went into the war with a combination of predisposing factors that would include genetics, culture/social positions, and other environmental factors. In fact, most of them probably went in with significant risk factors in two if not all three of those of those domains.

            Whether it’s desensitization or something else, I don’t know. One thing is if you read Theweleit’s book (and put up with the endless Freudianism in it!!!) the stuff they could write would have the authors of most gothic horror novels and even “American Psycho” running for the hills. It’s too extreme to sell as the most disgusting “torture porn” invented.

            As for whether The British Empire saved the UK from Germany’s fate? Not necessarily. A lot of relatively free countries (so you can’t blame Gulags or repressive status quo) with no large Empire or other places to mass-export such people, suffered horrible and humiliating defeats in war without facing anything like the Freikorps, or the rise of one like Hitler

            My guess is that if anything having a large Empire to police might mean you are MORE likely to face “fascists” at home. Because rather than rare and cataclysmic wars like WWI your Empire is producing them at all times, and leaving little incentive for individuals or communities to “age out of it” and find some regular occupation. Why Germany ended up with Hitler and other nations that might have had equal or greater risk factors is hard to say.

            As to whether the Black and Tans fit that mold? That is hard to say. The Black and Tans obviously had (and deserved) an extremely bad reputation in Irish history. Were more than a subset of them were the same kind who might in Germany join the Freikorps? It’s possible that if a small subset of the Black and Tans were of that mold, that others who had simply joined for a paycheck might have gotten sucked up in the social dynamic by those who were. Maybe more concrete evidence that some of the Tans did fit that mold exists…I don’t know.

            One notable fact is that the Black and Tans were receiving a paycheck and many of them got a pension out of it. The same could not be said of the Freikorps. For them it was a “labor of hatred” (versus a labor of love). Also no paychecks or pensions were handed out to another horrific group where I suspect at least the first iteration may have involved a similar type: The KKK. By the first iteration, I’m talking about the early Klan where most of them were Confederate veterans and many had been slave owners or overseers before the war-in short people who had a pretty intense education in brutality long before seeing a day of combat. Of course, the KKK was capable of some extremely grotesque brutalities that are beyond anything I’ve heard of the Freikorps (or the Tans) engaging in things, so who knows what role “pre-existing education” might have played.

            For myself, I had a bad feeling about the Vietnam War Dolchstosslegende from the time I was a child (like 9 year old). I mean these sort of Vietnam War-related Dolchstoss themes absolutely frightened me to the point rape attempts by a neighbor paled by comparison. Partly that was because I had seen John McCain’s temper firsthand, decided he was not fit to be President (complete with nuclear weapons and the right to command the armed forces), and learned that almost nobody was willing to utter the faintest hint of criticism towards McCain because they were afraid of The Dolchstoss. Partly it was just a gut feeling that there was something deeply sinister in The Dolchstoss- much eerier than the kind of “hysterical self-pity” O’Toole is so fond of!!! When I found out in 2004 (as a protester myself) that the Freikorps favorite internal story was “When I got back from The Great War a Jewess spat in my face and called me a coward and child-murder.” it was pretty shocking. On the one hand it was evidence that I wasn’t just crazy, for having such strong suspicions about these rumors. On the other hand? Well what can you say!! A variant of a story I’d heard most of my life, with the main variation having a “Jewess” as the “spitter”-and not long before the rise of Hitler and eventually the Holocaust? It’s downright creepy.

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