16 October, 2010

Day 99 - Battle of Britain

The newspapers note on this day that the Ministry of Information has produced a propaganda film on the Blitz, called "London can take it". Narrated by American journalists Quentin Reynolds, it is intended for a US audience in a country where there is less than a month to go before the presidential election.

Theoretically, the Battle of Britain is still in progress but the RAF is not mentioned. The focus is on the Londoners, the civilians, with Reyolds saying: "These civilians are good soldiers ... ". His narration tells us:
The searchlights are in position, the guns are ready, the people's army of volunteers is ready – they are the ones who are really fighting this war, the firemen, the air raid wardens, the ambulance drivers – and there's the wail of the banshee (siren sounds) ... the nightly siege of London has begun. The city is dressed for battle.
This is very much the "People's War" imagery, as embraced by the socialists, wholly distinct from the elitist vision of the war that Churchill has offered with his "few".  Would the message have been different had the film been produced for domestic consumption?

The propaganda element, though, is transparent to a modern audience and would be even more so to a Londoner in the midst of the carnage and destruction. The bombers have given London another pasting overnight and the cumulative effects of the bombing have already changed the face of the city.

Further, the contemporary shelter dweller, who would find it difficult to see any similarity between their circumstances and the scenes depicted in the film. And given that there have been three major shelter incidents in three consecutive days, the timing of the film and its general message, is unfortunate. As long as the censorship holds, however, the message can survive unchallenged.

Fortunately, there is some alternative entertainment to report, the success of the cruiser Ajax in an action against the Italian navy, where three destroyers have been sunk.  This legitimises keeping the air raid news off the front page which, had the shelter incidents been allowed into the public domain, would have dominated the news on this day and for days to come.

Crucially, though, taking up the Ministry of Information's own theme of London being a "city under siege", defended by a "citizen army", it is utterly bizarre to posit that the Battle of Britain is solely an RAF "show", much less the property of Fighter Command, or that the battle is in any way won.  Possibly, all that stands between the collapse of civilian morale and overwhelming political pressure on the government is the evident success of the censorship operation, in keeping bad news off the front pages.

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