Sunday, October 13, 2019

A Bit of Argy-Bargy (1996)

The TV Review column from the August 1996 issue of the Socialist Standard

The approach to history of those so-called "radical" historians who still uphold the capitalist system was exemplified last month by Channel Four’s Secret History: The Battle of Goose Green (12 july. 9pm). This programme. based on a book by Spencer Fitz-Gibbon, devoted itself to examining the strategic conduct of one of the key battles during the Falklands war. Its main contention was that far from being the type of honourable victory Thatcher exhorted us to "rejoice" at, it was instead a campaign severely flawed by the archaic tactics of the British army and the "over-the-top-lads” mentality of paratroop commander Colonel H. Jones. Colonel Jones, killed in action and awarded a posthumous VC for his troubles, was portrayed as a soldier straight out of a Boys Own comic—heroic— but in the cold light of day unprofessional in an army of supposed "professionals".

The attraction to Channel Four of such a programme is obvious—a chance to attack the culture and ethos of a British institution, in this case the army, without doing anything so radical as question its reason for existence, with a good deal of trivia and personalisation thrown in for good measure. In other words, this programme exemplified the approach of reformists and radical poseurs everywhere, the approach that deals with effects and not causes and isolates phenomenon that are mere aspects of a greater totality. Its real intention was to highlight "the shortcomings of the army’s command system at the time of the Falklands war", as Spencer Fitz-Gibbon put it himself in an article in the Guardian. Though one Falklands commander went so far as to question why the Battle of Goose Green need have been fought at all, this was a mere side-show and was still informed by the mentality which is obsessed with the strategic conduct of battles and with army tactics. But what, we may ask, was the purpose of all this?

Who—apart that is from the stereotypical Brigadiers in Bournemouth and flag-waving buffoons with improbably short haircuts—cares precisely how efficient British paratroopers are at killing foreigners? It is just not the kind of issue that preoccupies an adult, critical intelligence. This is what makes it all the more galling that Channel Four should have devoted time to such a farrago of nonsense, especially under the heading Secret History, which suggests that if this is an example of the type of secrets left to uncover, it is probably not worth the bother.

Crass as ever
Instead of concentrating on this type of non-issue, why didn't Channel Four commission a programme examining why the Falklands war was actually fought in the first place— probably a real secret to millions? Was it fought to protect 1,800 freedom-loving Falklanders or was it to defend the interest of the capitalist class from Britain and their investments there? Was it to defend democracy from dictatorship or to protect the ownership rights of the British government and capitalists over billions of pounds worth of adjacent raw materials? While it was at it, the programme could have investigated why all the major political parties in Britain supported the slaughter, and why it was that that inveterate peace-monger and CND luminary Michael Foot urged Thatcher on to make an example of the Argies.

And—more important than the desperately sad antics of Colonel H. Jones—why did the freedom-loving British Parliament try to stifle opposition to the war? For instance, when the anarchist punk band Crass released an anti-Falklands war single they were instructed to "watch their step" by the House of Commons. When they refused and released their "homage" to Mrs Thatcher, How Does It Feel To Be The Mother Of A Thousand Dead?, the government prosecuted them (as it turned out, unsuccessfully). The sound and sight of the pompous government minister Tim Eggar on TV and radio being asked to recite some of the offending lyric is still something to be treasured by those opposed to the jingoism of the entire pro-war campaign.

But just how many people are aware of the real facts surrounding the Falklands conflict is a matter for speculation. One thing is certain, however, they will not have been enlightened much by Channel Four's Secret History. If they don't get round to doing a proper investigative job of the real reasons for the Falklands war, then perhaps they may at least try to redress the balance by devoting a programme to the thousands if not millions who opposed the conflict instead of focusing on those who gave gloried in slaughter and who have sought to defend the need for armies and armaments. Let them also show the fake radicals in their real colours bemoaning after the event the strategic conduct of a slaughter they supported—let them show the Labour leader and all the others baying for Argie blood while those with a real idea of what it was all about stood out against the entire barbarous conflict. If they do they may let the final word go to Crass, who were more perceptive at the time of war than a thousand Channel Four historians who fancy themselves as latter-day armchair generals, helping the army to be more ruthlessly efficient:
Is it any wonder there was such sickening celebration over the Task Force
When so-called radicals work hand in hand with the ruling elite?
Yesterday those wily creeps rejected the ‘status quo',
Today they smarm and charm passageways to its very heart
Where's the free individual in all that? Where’s the hope and aspiration?
Identities have become corporations.
(Yes, Sir. I Will)

Dave Perrin 

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