Wednesday, April 7, 2021
Sunday, March 21, 2021
"In 1982, many in the Soviet leadership believed that the West had lost so much of its morale that its end was inevitable, and perhaps even near. The Soviets themselves were in trouble, but they thought they could survive. The Argentinians clearly thought much the same thing about the British. Initially many in Britain seem to have assumed that Argentinian seizure of the islands was just another unavoidable step in the slow decline of the British Empire."
Although small in scale, the Falklands War was probably the most consequential and far-reaching conflict of the second half of the 20th Century, simply because it demonstrated an apparent resolve that had previously been considered lacking. As Friedman further explained:
"The Soviet leadership was shocked. The West was still a serious threat. The Soviets found themselves taking Western initiatives, such as Reagan’s “Star Wars,” very seriously indeed. Thatcher’s was not, of course, the only demonstration of Western resolve; at about the same time, the Russians found it impossible to intimidate NATO governments that had decided to accept the deployment of U.S. Pershing and Tomahawk missiles on their soil. They, in turn, were probably much encouraged by Thatcher’s example."
The Soviets' appreciation of declining Western resolve had been partially based on its popular culture, which they had assessed as being both the source and the product of its demoralisation. The famous aversion of the Soviet authorities to the music of The Beatles was believed in the West to be due to its potential to grant Soviet citizens a tantalising glimpse of Western freedom. In fact, the opposite was the case, as the Soviets believed that the music was just one more avenue for social and cultural dissolution; that it was as effective a route to demoralisation as opium. If the Soviets could take some satisfaction from what Punk demonstrated about the wretched psychological conditions in the West, they were absolutely determined that it would not be allowed to affect life behind the Iron Curtain. However, if, contrary to all cultural indications, the West was not as weak as it appeared, then the fate of the Soviet Union was sealed.
However, the Soviets had essentially been correct. The explosion of British popular culture had been totally dependent on the collapse of national morale and the consequent malaise within the ruling class. Post-war popular music was like a flourescent lichen that could only grow on rot. And in its display of incontrovertible ruling class competence, the Falklands War effectively broke the back of post-war popular culture, and it would never fully recover. Following the Falklands, the last big punk bands, The Clash and The Jam, would split up, along with numerous of their peers. Those bands that stuck around invariably softened and slicked-up their sound, in anticipation of the unsympathic commercial environment that they would soon find themselves in. The result would be the infamous musical desert of the mid-Eighties, in which commercial brashness would contrast with the feyest and most colourless "indie" music, with little of sustenance inbetween. The sense of danger, revolution and infinite possibility present in the beat boom and Punk would never fully return. For her part, Thatcher would take the antinomian energy of Punk and direct it against her internal enemies. If the Queen could be dismembered then so could the National Union of Mineworkers. If the Union Jack could be torn up, then so could the regulations that restrained the City of London. What the punks had failed to understand is that once the most sacred national symbols are defiled, then nothing is sacred and anything goes. All Margaret Thatcher ultimately did was confront the rebels and revolutionaries of pop culture with the logic of their own desires.
Friday, February 26, 2021
Thursday, February 11, 2021
Thursday, January 28, 2021
Monday, January 11, 2021
Operation Musketeer was launched on 31st October 1956 by the Anglo-French naval Task Force 345. two days subsequent to an allied Israeli incursion into Egypt across the Sinai Desert. The purpose of this combined land and sea assault was to seize Port Said at the northern end of the canal and its surrounding airfields and military installations, thereby returning the Suez Canal to French and British control following its nationalisation by the Egyptian president, Gabal Abdel Nassar, three months previously. Although sometimes erroneously described as a "military disaster", Musketeer was in purely military terms an almost clinically successful operation that proceeded like clockwork, a product not only of the accumulated experience of the British, French and Israeli forces, but also of the comparative weakness of the Egyptian army. However, it would be the diplomatic context within which Musketeer was launched that would prove its undoing.
The build up to Suez from the British perspective was characterised by two factors that the Conservative government of Anthony Eden considered vital to its eventual success. The first was to garner approval for its execution from the newly dominant Western power, the United States of America, and the second was to convince a deeply sceptical British public of its necessity. The possibility of a misunderstanding on all sides was intensified by the byzantine complexities of the local situation, and the extraordinary dexterity of Nassar in bluffing and manipulating the multifarious forces involved. These included the intense rivalry between the various Arab states to achieve regional dominance, the increasingly nationalistic demands of the local Arab populations, and the apparent expansionist aims of the newly created Jewish state of Israel. External to these factors were the desire of the former imperial powers to retain their influence, the strategy of the Soviets to increase their influence in the region, and the resulting fear on the part of the Americans of it falling under communist influence, or even succumbing to Soviet occupation.
The latter factor was the most critical to Anglo-French intentions, as it meant that the Americans were more interested in anchoring the Egyptians within the pro-Western sphere of the developing Cold War against the Soviet bloc than they were in shoring up the colonial interests of the British and French. A series of diplomatic initiatives were therefore instigated in which the major national users of the canal convened to discuss whether the canal could be placed under international control rather than be subject to continued Egyptian sovereignty. Neither Britain nor France took these discussions particularly seriously and began planning for an intervention in earnest, these being joined by Israel, who had become alarmed by the build up of the Egyptian army with weapons supplied by the Warsw Pact. In discussions with the US President, Dwight D. Eisenhower, the British Chancellor of the Exchequer, Harold MacMillan, had somehow managed to misinterpret Eisenhower's clear indication that the Americans would oppose any attempt to seize the canal by force, with both MacMillan and Eden convincing themselves that they would come round to an Anglo-French intervention if it were delivered as a fait accompli.
The domestic opposition to any military intervention was also being drastically underestimated, with public opinion being distinctly charry, and much influential opinion, especially within the Labour Party, being distinctly hostile. The outbreak of hostilities would see a flurry of denunciations being submitted to influential periodicals, and anti-war protests erupt nationwide. Indeed, a demonstration at Trafalgar Square, featuring a scalding condemnation delivered by the Labour parliamentarian Aneurin Bevan, would even lead to an attempt to storm 10 Downing Street. However, the unprecedented intensity of the domestic objections paled against those of the Americans, who prevented the British Government, whose monetary reserves were quickly depleting, from receiving assistance from the International Monetary Fund, while threatening to sell the US Government's sterling bond holdings. Succumbing to the pressure, Anthony Eden duly announced a ceasefire on the 6th November, without having consulting his French and Israeli allies. The British and French forces, despite having come close to securing the entire canal, would consequently withdraw over the following month in favour of a United Nations peacekeeping force, with the Egyptian ownership of the canal now being firmly secured. The common wisdom of the era would subsequently declare that Operation Muskateer had been an anachronism, a peerless example of a pair of unreformed colonial powers throwing their weight around in ignorance of their own diminished stature.
But was this correct? In hindsight, the Suez affair was a very curious one with particular regard to the British contribution. Despite providing the bulk of the forces for the operation, especially the naval elements, Britain proved to be the weakest willed of all the protagonists. Both the French and the Israelis were prepared to sit out the international pressure, and indeed the French, who were far more clear sighted about the likely response of the Americans, had previously secured international credit lines especially to resist the expected US financial pressure. If Operation Musketeer was essentially a gamble, a bluff to retain international status and prestige, the British ruling class had been suspiciously quick to fold. Whereas the French, disillusioned with the unanticipated timidity of their British allies, would turn away from the USA and invest in their Continental project, the European Economic Community, the British would submissively draw themselves further into the American orbit. There is a sense that the failure at Suez was actually something of a relief for a tired and weary British ruling class; that they were at last relieved of the burden of responsibility that came with global hegemony; that Muskateer had been, in fact, an organised collapse, a set up from the start. It should be not be forgotten, though, that this ruling class psychodrama had resulted in the death of several thousand Egyptians, most of them civilians.
As well as the loss of status on the international stage, what would come to be called the Suez Crisis had also led to a loss of domestic prestige for Britain's rulers, and this was the essential first condition for the outbreak of popular culture. It began the end of the culture of deference that had exerted an iron grip on British life, in which the low-born genuflected to the high, and the young respected their elders. The emergence of the adolescent, the teenager as a cultural phenomenon, was dependant both on the failure of the old order at Suez, and the simultaneous arrival of a new one from across the Atlantic in the form of Rock'n'Roll. As well as being the year of Operation Musketeer, 1956 was also the year when Rock'n'Roll music first began to penetrate the British pop charts. A distinct youth subculture had been emerging from the beginning of the decade with the Teddy Boys, urban youths dressed in Edwardian-style suits that had originally been produced to appeal to demobbed servicemen, and the first tremors of the energetic new American music had hit Britain in 1955 with the film The Blackboard Jungle and its hit song by Bill Haley and the Comets, Rock Around The Clock. This record is generally agreed to have fired the starting gun on the true post-war pop culture, and by the following year, the year of Suez, Elvis Presley and Little Richard had had their first top ten hits. The frenzy intensified during 1957 with the appearance of Buddy Holly and Jerry Lee Lewis, the latter in particular incinerating what remained of the traditional values of duty and restraint.
Instead of looking up to a ruling class that appeared increasingly bereft in the world, British teenagers were looking towards their peers, especially those from the emerging superpower. And this revealed what would become the critical dynamic of British youth culture; that the more the ruling class struggled and the further their authority waned, then the more vital and vibrant popular culture became. This was a symbiotic relationship, and it did not take long for the avatars of the new popular culture to realise that they had a vested interest in further weakening the dwindling authority of what would become known as the establishment. Ironically enough, the ruling class were at least partially invested in this process themselves, so eager were many of them to divest themselves of their remaining inhibitions and responsibilities. Indeed, the culturial revolutionaries would increasingly find themselves pushing against an open door, especially when the Profumo affair revealed the deep moral rot at the heart of the ruling class. If the Suez Crisis had revealed an elite that seemed to have lost its touch in international relations, this latest scandal, in which a senior government minister was found to be sharing a mistress with a suspected Soviet spy, demonstrated that they had also lost any authority to lecture the lower orders on their sexual behaviour. Needless to say, this was to be a liberation for all concerned,
Wednesday, December 30, 2020
From this we can draw out the explanation of what a zeitgeist - literally time-spirit - actually is. A zeitgeist is a time-dependent egregore, comprised of all the souls that make up a particular generation or set of closely related generations. A zeitgeist therefore emerges when that generation emerges and starts to express its distinct worldview, and then slowly fades and dies as that generation ages, thins out, and finally becomes extinct. Once the egregore dies then so, slowly, does its worldview die with it, including its unique slant on art, politics, personal relationships, and morality, among many other things. For example, as a child in the 1970's the Edwardian zeitgeist was still very active and common to experience. This was especially notable in children's television, in which many programmes had a distinctively Edwardian flavour, such as Bagpuss, Andy Pandy and Ivor The Engine. It was obvious to me, even at a very young age, that the people who made these programmes had a far more sentimental and indulgent sensibility than my own comparatively modern and efficient parents. The first three Dr. Who's were all essentially Edwardian gentlement, especially Jon Pertwee with his antique car Bessie. Then there was Vision On's eccentric inventor Wilf Lunn with his waxed moustache and excessive use of ornamental brass fitments. Indeed, a big part of the magic of Seventies kids' TV was that it was anything but contemporary - everything seemed to be a precious relic from an age that was already flickering out. There was plenty of Edwardianism on adult television too, with dramas such as Upstairs, Downstairs and The Duchess of Duke Street, and Leonard Sachs' thesaurus-busting introductions to The Good Old Days. There were Edwardian films a-plenty most obviously with The Railway Children, Chitty-Chitty Bang-Bang and Those Magnificent Men In Their Flying Machines, but also those long-forgotten Doug McClure films such as At the Earth's Core and The Land That Time Forgot. There was a time when the presence of Doug McClure in a film cast was the absolute guarantee of cinematic excellence for every schoolkid, although the collective memory of this period was effectively wiped clean by the final disappearance of Edwardianism and the emergence of Star Wars.
And this is why death is important. As a generation dies off, and particularly as its most notable and lauded members expire, so to a large extent do the values and beliefs constituted in its egregore. And so as the baby boomers die, so too does the zeitgeist that they created. Their world will still be seen, like that of the Edwardians, preserved in photographs, films and music, but it will no longer be able to be felt. And when generations like mine who were at the tail end of "the rock'n' roll years", and could still divine some of its yearnings, also disappear then the whole era will seem strange, perhaps even unfathomable. This is already happening with the cultural minutiae of the era - who nowadays cares about Oz magazine? Or Fat Freddie's Cat?, or Victor Spinetti? But I also suspect that even the most highly regarded post-war popular music, from The Beatles to Jimi Hendrix to Miles Davis, will eventually lie neglected - not because it succumbs to harsh critical re-evaluation, or falls foul of changing morals, but simply because it becomes incomprehensible, that the yearnings that it expressed are no longer felt or understood.
The death of David Bowie in 2016 was not only important culturally, but also politically, and it was not entirely coincidental to the results of the EU referendum and the US presidential election, as well as other seemingly more minor political events. Bowie, with his libidinal, liberatory energy, occupied a key position in the collective egregore of post-war popular culture, and was irreplaceable once he was gone. And so the rise of nationalist populism is to a certain degree a consequence of the eclipse of the idealist, utopian egregore that arose in the generations born in the aftermath of World War II. Progressive liberalism in the USA is nowadays largely a rearguard action that is trying to rekindle the dwindling flame of the Civil Rights era. One of the big problems of the "Marxist-Lennonism" of the British left is that its utopian vision of a world transformed is, far from being a vision of the future, rather an attempt to hold on to the dying post-war egregore. Today's progressives are still betrothed to the 20th Century and its transformative social ideals, while the formless waters of the 21st Century, inscrutable and treacherous, slowly lap in around them.