In May 2013 the British magazine HISTORY TODAY, founded by Brendan Bracken carried an article FICTION OF IMPERIALISM, by Michael Paris. It started: “Britain’s involvement in the Middle East between the (World) wars proved a rich seam for authors of adventure stories which helped to reinforce the imperial mission.” Tales of young Britons bringing peace and order to a region made unstable by conflict, contrasting honest and upright Britons with cruel Turks, untrustworthy Arabs and rascally Egyptians….served a patriotic purpose, for they justified the great advantages of British Imperialism for indigenous peoples and allowed those of a squeamish disposition to resolve through literature some of the tensions created by the occupation of the Middle East.
The Royal Airforce “maintained peace” over vast areas “on the cheap” ie. with an economy of English lives. “The military argued that air strikes were humane and could be delivered with surgical precision that would take out only the guilty.” In May 1923 the British learned that Kurdish insurgents were based in the city of Suleymaniyah. They dropped leaflets ordering the dissidents to surrender and the innocents to leave the city. Then they bombed the city several times killing more civilians than rebels. Many of the inhabitants could not read. Besides, it was their city. One pilot explained – “I had a job to do. My first loyalty was to my commanding officer. If the Kurds hadn’t learned to behave in a civilised way, we had to Spank their bottoms…….this was done with bombs and guns.”. Pilots frequently machine-gunned innocent civilians. Winston Churchill, Godfather to the B Specials and Black and Tans may have had his tongue-in-cheek, when, after hearing that women and children had been deliberately gunned down, he wrote to the RAF’s Commander in Chief, Lord Trenchard – “To fire wilfully on women and children is a disgraceful act. I am surprised you did not order the officers responsible to be court-martialled.”. The article reports that Trenchard’s only response was to ensure that his field commanders censored their reports before they were forwarded to London. This was a full thirteen years before The Third Reich’s Condor Legion bombed Guernica, a crime, which thanks to the genius of Picasso has not been hidden under the carpet. I enjoyed the Biggles stories by Capt. W.E. Johns as a boy. But I never read his novella “The Raid” featuring Flight Lieutenant Guy Baring, who explained that to keep the peace the trick was to bomb the right targets – Nowadays we don’t go for the lads themselves. We go for the stock, and they have no means of protecting them. When a village gets on its toes a squadron of machines only has to make a demonstration and our dark skinned brothers get worried, very worried. They aren’t afraid for themselves, or the women, who can be replaced in the next raid, it’s the thought of their prize pieces of furniture grazing on the hillsides being hurt that brings them in, all agitato, with the pipe of peace in one hand, and a hatchet to bury in the other.”
The article comments that such pieces captured imaginations and explained why the British had undertaken the thankless task of being the world’s policeman. “But such ‘actions’ often had terrible consequences for those caught in the crossfire.”.
As often as not the “Troubles” were attributed to outside agitators, Bolsheviks stirring up the simple natives, who had no concrete grievances of their own. In one story “Wings. of Revolution” by Railton Holden an English officer interrogates an informer what is behind the unrest. “Is it a Moslem rising?” he asks. “Not on your sweet life” retorted the Londoner. “It’s the Bolshies.” “Russians?” “No! Russian Bolshies if you like. German Bolshies, Swedes, Frenchies, Wops and Greasers. The work-shies from every bloomin’ country in the world….Out for summat for nowt.”. , , . . . . . . . . .
A strange Londoner, that informer with his North country dialect!