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  • Writer's pictureWilliam Tyler

Myths Exploded

Warning: For those of you who may not know me, I never expect you to agree with my opinions. Adult Education is all about challenging everyone to decide for themselves.

Much popular history is contaminated by myth, rather than being rooted in objective fact (always remembering that nothing is wholly objective). Journalists and politicians are particularly prone to falling back on myth rather than facts in times of crisis.

The history of World War Two is seriously contaminated by myth - some of those created contemporaneously by Churchill. This is no criticism of Churchill but rather the opposite. In the present coronavirus crisis much reference is made to 'war', 'British phlegm', and 'defeating' the virus.

So, here are a few examples of the myths surrounding World War Two which have crept into the coronavirus narrative:-

1. Keep Calm and Carry On. Worthy though this slogan might be, it was barely used during the War. The poster was first produced in 1939 and just under 2.5m copies were printed. Very few copies were distributed for fear they would lower morale. It has acquired an afterlife, after a rare copy was found in an Alnwick secondhand bookshop in 2000.

Conclusion, fine to use it but not to summon up from it 'The Blitz Spirit' et al.

2a. Dunkirk Spirit. Yes, little ships did assist in the evacuation of troops from the beaches, but the real heroes were the men of The Royal Navy and Naval Reserve who in addition to manning naval vessels, which took the majority of troops to safety, also crewed many of The Little Ships.

2b. Blitz Spirit (and in reference to London - 'London can take it'). As Joshua Levine in his 'Secret History of The Blitz writes, "The Blitz is one of the most iconic moments in modern British history....[but] behind the often-used phrase...people ...were...breaking rules and finding pleasure in surprising ways". Levine titles one of his chapters "Golden Age of Crime". He concludes this chapter by reflecting that, alongside The Blitz Spirit, was Blitz Misbehaviour.

And, so it is at this very moment too. Some heartening examples of humanity at its best, alongside some less noble examples of profiteering and fraud.

3. British Phlegm ('we can take it'). Based on the 19th century public school ethos of duty and stoicism, as exemplified in Kipling's 'If' and Newbolt's 'Vitai Lampada'. This seems a world away from today's snowflake generation.

Politicians need to find new language for new times.

4. A Thought! Personally, the way the Government is acting (poor and confused communication and lack of supplies (medical) is more reminiscent of Chamberlain's Government than of Churchill's.

5. Conclusion. This is not a war but a medical and economic crisis of huge dimensions (as well expressed at a news conference by Rishi Sunak)

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