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- Historians suppressing the word “British” when referring to the Second World War
With the elimination of the teaching of British history as a coherent narrative in state schools, under the malign influence of historiographers on the one hand who believe that children should be taught how to “evaluate” documents and artefacts without any knowledge of the period they are looking at, and leftists who hate anything which shows the British people in a good light, Britain-Watch believes there is a need to provide a basic, easily accessible, set of facts about our history over the last 2000 years, together with links to sources which provide fuller descriptions. This data set will take time to build up.
Entries under this heading will be initially made on an ad hoc basis – a serious mis-statement of facts in the reported media which could have important on-going implications. The first entry is a good example of this.
Historians suppressing the word “British” when referring to the Second World War
A well produced, illustrated book, published by Parragon and edited by Dr Chris Mann, managed to describe the British victory at Imphal-Kohima without mentioning the Fourteenth Army, or its commander Bill Slim. References throughout were to the “Allies”, though in fact American ground troups weren’t involved in this battle or the Burma campaign generally, except for a marginal effort by a force known as “Merrill’s Marauders”. They get a whole paragraph and a picture, although Wingate, commander of the Chindits on which the Marauders were modelled, is not mentioned.
Similarly, in the same book, the British Eighth Army at Alamein was described as the “Commonwealth Army” – a term that was never used in World War II. Generally forces from several parts of the British Empire were known as just that, or Imperial forces. References were occasionally made to British Commonwealth and Empire – as Churchill did in his “finest hour” speech in 1940.
In fact in the description of the El Alamein battle you have to look hard for the word “British” at all. An uninformed reader would struggle to realise that Monty and his Corps commanders were actually British generals, or that all the armed divisions were entirely made up of troops from the United Kingdom.
As a word “altruism” seems not to be very ancient, having been formed by August Comte (1787-1859) from the Italian “altrui” meaning “someone else”. If the meaning in English is “unselfishness and regard for others as a principle of action” (Concise Oxford English Dictionary), then it is clear that the concept is a lot older than 1787. A secular view of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross could perhaps be that this was the supreme altruistic act. For ordinary mortals, the simple statement of St John’s gospel (Chapter 15 verse 13):
“Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”
comes down to us the in the way for instance the criteria for the award of the Victoria Cross have evolved so that valour is not only wonderful bravery, but conscious self-sacrifice as well. The soldier in Afghanistan who flung himself on a grenade to protect five of his comrades may be awarded the VC for this act of altruism.
From a different civilization, the book “The Three Swans” by Yung Zi (born 1955) a beautiful matter-of-fact account of her own life in Communist China and that of her family in pre-communist times, shows how much concern for others was present among followers of Buddha even after Mao’s regime waged a 30 year war to stamp out Buddhism.
And there can be little doubt that in the early years of the Communist revolution in Russia, much of its attraction for the young was its altruism expressed as a commitment to self-sacrifice for the common good (later of course mutating into sacrifice for the Party bosses).
There is also little doubt that the same sense of working for the common good has had a powerful appeal for many people in Britain during the early history of the Labour party and the Conservative party, has by its concern for the individual and its support of Capitalism (and therefore profit), been stigmatized as essentially selfish, a selfishness constrained by our system of democratic elections.
And surely no-one would regret now the various Acts of Parliament which in the Victorian era constrained the conduct of government and business so that millions of people began to enjoy reasonable working conditions and proper sanitation in their housing. It is worth noting, however, that individuals were ahead of law-makers. As early as 1819 people like Robert Owen established model factories and villages with all the worst features of industrialism eliminated. These initiatives would have been called altruistic if the word had existed then, but they were also effective from a production efficiency point of view.
None the less, their example was not generally followed by factory owners and it wasn’t until 1875 that the first of Lord Shaftsbury’s Factory Acts (in Disraeli’s 1874-1880 administration) caught up with Robert Owen’s example of 56 years earlier.
For this reason many Christian folk felt that only collective altruism expressed in legislation would make a real impression on the social evils of the day.
Stephen Bush, 2007
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