Oh, what a lovely war


Posted by in October's Magazine

The UK seems increasingly on a wartime footing – all part of the plan claims Colin Montgomery  

Britain lost the war. In fact, it lost two wars; this is not some insane revisionism at work, no, it’s jingoism that now holds sway as the exit door from Europe beckons us ever closer. Because if you’re a mature, grown-up nation of winners, looking forward to the future with confidence, why do you need to constantly frame things within a narrative that’s over 70 years old and no longer applicable to the modern reality of being a global player? 

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In other words, while the UK may have technically been on the winning side post-1945, it failed to achieve the escape trajectory to move on. The conflict has defined these isles to the point of becoming a pathology. 

Growing up, it became pretty clear early on that our identity our belonging, our place in the world was forever determined by the twisted tapestry of martial memories. Not so much a Bayeux as a Blahyeux – the wiffle waffle of a nation of blowhards who revelled in the finest hour without having spent a minute in fatigues. And by jove, if you didn’t fall in line with this, you’d be confined to barracks. 

Francisco Goya’s Boys Playing Soldiers, rather grander than Colin’s East Kilbride skirmishes! 

Except the thing is… that wartime obsession really was seductive. As kids we played soldiers until it grew dark, with sten guns fashioned from sticks and pine cone grenades. Jerry always took a pasting in time for us to return home, mucky but victorious. Indeed, given the amount of time we spent in imaginary battles, I’m surprised we didn’t all end up in the forces. To my knowledge, only one did and he went on to perform acts of great heroism in Afghanistan, losing a limb in the process; a stark reminder of the reality of war versus the remiss romanticism that conditioned us to think we’d always come out on top of things.

Teenage years saw my active service in this wartime fantasy abruptly come to an end. A dishonourable discharge came later during my raunchy 20s – I’ll always remember that walk of shame from the Chalmers. 

Rally round and see off the Euro Hun with a clip round the ear as the UK sets sail for the sunlit uplands of free trade

Yeah, there’s little appetite for simplistic story arcs of winners and losers when you’re an adolescent. Actually of course there bloody well is – it was a constant battle between winning and losing. Except now, rather than co-opting shrubbery to function as rudimentary ordnance, I weaponised my introspection, a foolish move really as it’s like mind-bombing yourself on a daily basis. 

I didn’t completely shake off the symptoms of Blighty Syndrome of course. Dad’s Army, It Ain’t Half Hot Mum and yes, even old Basil Fawlty’s goose-stepping kept the home fires burning. Plus we had Where Eagles Dare and The Great Escape on a loop come Christmas time. I’m not bemoaning that fact: I enjoyed watching war films, wartime sitcoms and the like but it doesn’t take long for you to come to the conclusion that, over time, this was like some mass indoctrination exercise. 

Plucky Britain, back to the wall, overcoming all odds to win the day was hard-wired into us from day one. And now, it seems we’re resuming the experiment on a new front. 

Talk of collaborators, references to gulags, unfavourable comparisons with Nazi Germany. This isn’t the beer talk of some pub bore with bulldogs on his arms; these are actual public statements by our current Prime Minister – I say ‘our’ Prime Minister, but I don’t consider the clown to be my leader in any shape or form other than it being a technical reality. He even likes to style himself as a Churchill, which holds true if we’re referring to the comical nodding bulldog from the insurance advert. The irony is he (and his gang) are now summarily rejecting the insurance policy that is the Irish backstop. 

Which brings me to the point of this long march (keep time at the back or we’ll be forced to camp). It’s clear now that, under the spell of the great disrupter Dominic Cummings and other Brexiter fanatics, the Johnson junta is deliberately presenting all of this madness as a war; plucky Britain versus intransigent Europe – a brave people uncowed by the federalist foe and ready to lay down our medicines, fresh produce and unfettered access to ferry ports for a noble cause. 

Dig for victory. Do your bit. Rally round and see off the Euro Hun with a clip round the ear as the UK sets sail for the sunlit uplands of free trade on the high seas etc. 

Except as many a commentator has pointed out since this panto got going, we are actually at war with ourselves. Yes, all of this is self-inflicted. The UK has initiated a fantasy conflict with an imaginary enemy. Indeed it could be said, it’s not a million miles from me as a nine year-old boy holding a stick and making the sound of a machine gun in a high-pitched squeal. 

Only in this version we don’t get to go home for tea and toast before bed. We simply are toast if we continue with this lunacy. But it’s too late for that. There’s no escaping it; Britain is and forever will be the eternal POW.

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