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Denounced as a what? - Bela Lugosi's Dead, Jim
April 10th, 2007
10:41 pm
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Denounced as a what?

‘Here were the very people who for twenty years had hooted and jeered at the “glory” of war, atrocity stories, at patriotism, even at physical courage, coming out with stuff that with the alteration of a few names would have fitted into the Daily Mail of 1918. The same people who in 1933 sniggered pityingly if you said that in certain circumstances you would fight for your country, in 1937 were denouncing you as a Trotskyist-Fascist if you suggested that the stories in New Masses about freshly wounded men clamouring to get back into the fighting might be exaggerated.’

(George Orwell.) I'm about a third of the way through The Battle For Spain. Beevor does a good job of breaking the subject matter into digestible chapters, perhaps shorter than is typical for historical works. It is, however, relentlessly depressing: the Republicans are fractious and disorganized, and all too often odious; even when they do get it together, you know it'll all be for nothing. The Nationalists are nothing short of nightmarish.

Both sides seem to have been much less individualistic than modern Britain (despite the Republicans stripping away many of the restrictive social conventions previously forced upon them). Is that a deep change across time and place, I wonder, or something that this country would be likely to return to in the face of intense conflict?

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Date:April 10th, 2007 10:18 pm (UTC)
And yet the internecine struggles in the British left, and the armchair windbaggery from people with little or no idea of what was really going on, are very reminiscent.
Date:April 11th, 2007 10:47 am (UTC)
Oh, Spanish civil war, interesting stuff. I've been meaning to read some stuff about the rise and reign of Franco for a while, I suppose the Civil War would be a good place to start.

As for the individualism thing; I think the modern West is one of the most individualist societies there's ever been, to the point where the baby has been thrown out with the bathwater. Witness our suspicion of institutions like the military, religious belief and arranged marriage, all of which require the subjugation of the individual to a (perceived) greater good; we really don't understand what's to be gained from working for the benefit of something other than personal gain. Particularly as a Western woman, I do find that there's a huge cultural pressure towards amassing personal achievements and status, and that the things that are "uncool", "unfeminist", unvalued and "wasting your life" are things that involve putting other people before yourself. I'm currently best described as a housewife; can you imagine, for example, a national newspaper column whose byline read "Housewife and gardener"? A housewife is not a person whose opinions are considered important or to be taken seriously in this culture. How much of that is a result of the fact that capitalism makes most money out of those who choose to run in the rat race is an interesting question, but there's no doubt that our culture has swallowed those values whole wherever they started life.

I'm sure individualism is inclined to crumble in the face of real proper on-your-doorstep danger, which we haven't had in Britain since 1945; in fact thinking back to what I know about society during WWII, the phrase "Don't you know there's a war on?" springs to mind, so social pressure to join the war effort clearly existed. But it's also true that society was a very different place in the Forties and it's unlikely that we'd go back to that kind of collectivism in the long term even if we did go through another world war.

I would, though, be fascinated to read more about the Vietnam war and the hippies; in particular to find out why mass draft-dodging arose, whether it was mainly as a result of cultural individualism or whether people realised how unpopular the conflict was and wanted to avoid taking part in it.
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