Saturday, 12 March 2011

If the British suffered a major disaster, would the Blitz spirit still be there?

At the end of the last Book group meeting I attended, one of the other members – a right-wing female journalist – said something that gave me pause for thought: she described Germany and Japan as having “decent” societies in a way that we no longer do. When asked what she meant, she said the people were better educated, more orderly and more respectful of each other and (if I remember right) of their public spaces.  

Yes, we’ve always viewed both races as exceedingly deferential to authority (which is what led, we’ve assumed, to their willingness to become Kamikaze pilots and concentration camp guards), and we’ve had great fun mocking their neatness and excessive sense of propriety – all that kowtowing and “Herr Doktor”ing and love of hierarchy. 

But given our rapid descent into Hogarthian near-savagery – our criminality, drunkenness, greed, thuggishness, lack of respect for other people (or for the elderly, or for our betters), our widespread penchant for vandalism (from graffiti and smashing windows, to trying to kill police officers by throwing fire extinguishers from tall buildings and attacking the car carrying Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall) and our general foul-mouthed, pissed-up loutishness, our lack of respect for our own history (from pissing on war memorials and boorishly climbing all over the Cenotaph to merrily scrapping ancient offices of state and the Speaker of the House turning up with a Beatle hair-do, wearing a lounge suit, and his idiot wife posing for the newspapers in nothing but a bedsheet), and given that large parts of some of our major cities (Glasgow and Newcastle, for instance) look like they’ve already been visited by an apocalyptic disaster  – well, given all that, I’m not sure describing German and Japanese society as decent in comparison is all that controversial. I haven’t ever visited Japan, but I do know that Germans are now gentler, more respectful, less criminal, less loutish, better educated and certainly more orderly than large swathes of British society. 

I was reminded of all this while watching TV coverage of the Japanese earthquake and its aftermath over the last 36 hours. Of course, away from the cameras, the Japanese may all be behaving like animals, but most of those I’ve seen so far are acting with impressive dignity, restraint and stoicism (New Yorkers were equally impressive after 9/11). Can you imagine the scenes we’d be witnessing if this had taken place in many Third World countries (or New Orleans, come to that)?  Terrified, hysterical people, constantly screaming at each other, fighting over meagre resources while desperately trying to get some sense or any form of help from a befuddled bunch of clueless, incompetent officials, I expect. 

Indeed, can you image what the scenes would be like if the tragedy had happened here? Yup, that’s right – terrified, hysterical people, constantly screaming at each other, fighting over meagre resources while desperately trying to get some sense or any form of help from a befuddled bunch of clueless, incompetent officials. The only difference is that here the “support services” would be unwilling to take the slightest risk on behalf of the public in case doing so endangered them in any way – and afterwards they’d blame their abject stupidity and cowardice on the “processes” their bosses had put in place and the incomprehensible management-speak they’d been trained to use when “communicating” with each other.

We sort of imagine that any large-scale disaster would reawaken the Blitz spirit which made the British a worldwide symbol of stoical sang-froid

Is it still there? Let’s hope we never have to find out!


  1. No sooner had the sirens sounded than the unions would be out on strike led by Bob Crowe - health and safety inspectors would ban anyone from flying planes or handling weapons until a proper risk analysis had been done – Scotland and Wales would declare full independence to save their hides - every global corporation headquartered in London would move abroad overnight - all the politicians would agree we had to wait for a UN mandate before we could retaliate - the EU would schedule a summit about the conflict to take place in six months time meanwhile barring arms sales to Britain and ruling that the two dinghies left in Britain’s navy would not be allowed to use European ports, even their own - the airports would be clogged with immigrants clamouring to go home - the Libdems would demand another referendum on voting reform - climate-changers would blame it all on a lack of windfarms – the Left would claim it was all a conspiracy to distract attention from our real problems and would refuse to help - and everyone under 25 would say, “Why should I? I didn’t start it!”

    The non-political middle classes and the working bit of the traditional English working class – i.e. the same people who weathered the Blitz last time round – would muck in as always.

    As you say, let’s hope we never have to find out.
    Monday, March 14, 2011 - 02:22 PM

  2. I enjoyed that, Xenophobe – it all sound shorribly accurate. It reminded me of a Not The Nine O’Clock News spoof of how Question Time would handle a nuclear attack alert. The Welsh MP responded, “In situations like this, I always ask myself what Nye Bevan would have done. Well, I’m pretty sure Nye would have shat in his pants.” There was also the ghastly female Labour MP: “I think we’re missing the main point here. Let’s not forget that three million people are going to die unemployed”.
    Tuesday, March 15, 2011 - 04:48 PM

  3. Last Saturday the crowd at the Calcutta Cup at Twickenham were asked to observe a minute's silence for the dead of the Canterbury earthquake which they did impeccably. Last night the crowd at Stamford Bridge were asked to do the same for the Japanese dead before the Chelsea - Copenhagen tie and a substantial section jeered which about says it all.

    Without going off on some Theodore Dalrymple diatribe about modern Britain I would speculate as follows:

    1. No, we would not handle a new Blitz as well as the Germans or the Japanese. During WW2 about 60,000 civilians were killed in the Blitz while 600,000 lost their lives during the Allied Air Campaign over Germany. Figures for Japanese dead during the fire-bombing of their cities by the USAAF are inaccurate, but 100,000 are estimated to have died during the initial Tokyo raid. In none of the three countries was the spirit of the population broken.

    2. In the first 8 weeks of the Blitz there was serious looting - especially in London and Plymouth. Again, information is vague, but the looters seemed to have been dealt with leniently although it was a capital offence [at this time the law could also apply corporal punishment and hard labour]. The Home Secretary, Herbert Morrison, lost his grip temporarily because of chronic incontinence In Germany and Japan looting was negligible. The slightest hint of looting was dealt with on the spot my local militias.

    3. In a modern Blitz on Britain I suspect looting will reach epidemic proportions [not for essential foodstuffs or fuel, but for treasure -see recent events in Iraq, Haiti or New Orleans where people were staggering around the streets under the weight of archeological artefacts, washing machines and plasma TVs - what were they going to plug them into?]. The looting would be carried out by scum-bags like the jeering Chelsea supporters who will be seen disappearing down the Fulham Road carrying the Elgin Marbles.

    3. The police and the army are not equipped to handle this. The UK does not operate militias [like the US National Guard] or special para-military units [like the French] to handle internal disorder so the looters would have little to fear.

    4. The rioting and looting community would expect the government to provide the essential supplies [chicken nuggets, Pampers, that sort of thing] and when they failed [collective incontinence] to do so the unrest would spill out into anarchy and serious score-settling which would divide along class or race lines.

    Enter the new Oliver Cromwell to clear up the mess? I wonder who that could be?
    Thursday, March 17, 2011 - 08:41 AM

  4. None of your correspondents seems to appreciate what a crucial role our cultural icons might play in the aftermath of such a disaster. The Government would schedule televised night time concerts by N'Dubz to keep the yoof off the streets, as the Mayor of LA was said to have persuaded James Brown to do after the 1968 Watts riots. That should sort things out for a bit. Then Bono might be invited to form a Government of National Unity, if his own life had been spared, to build a fairer world for all and a new caring Britain.

    If however, Posh or Becks had been taken, we would be in the middle of a collective national nervous breakdown, with those of us who work having to wade through a sea of illegally picked daffodils to get there.
    Thursday, March 17, 2011 - 01:41 PM

  5. I’m guessing Daniel Hannan for Oliver Cromwell – I believe he’s a fan. As for cultural icons, I’m sure Jonathan Ross cracking jokes about necrophilia would calm everyone. As for Posh and Becks, Ex-KCS, I think that, as a nation, we’ve moved on – only the demise of Wayne and Colleen would lead to the sort of national breakdown you describe.
    Saturday, March 19, 2011 - 07:05 PM