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The first of the few

Posted by Richard Sunday, February 05, 2012

I am under no very great illusions that the reviews for The Many Not The Few are going to be the few rather than the many. But a welcome first comes from Jim Greenhalf on his blog, a review written by a journalist friend who contributed greatly to the shaping of the book, as we discussed it at length in the early days.

Having sown some seeds, Jim then left me to get on with it, so he is now well placed to write a review, a version of which may well find its way into the local newspaper. For the moment, though, I can do no better than point you to his blog, and let his words tell their own story.

That said, I am delighted that he takes my point that this is a "reversionist" history, not a revision. If Jim thought otherwise, he would say so, so it is good that my thesis has passed its first test.

The issue here is that I am not seeking to re-write the story of the battle of Britain, as we know it, but to return to the original story, in all its elements, rather the sanitised version which emerged in its final form after the War, aimed in part at glorifying the exploits of Fighter Command, and – in the context of swingeing defence cuts – propagandising for the utility of air power.

But, as Jim also notes, Churchill had a hand in writing a history which suited his own purposes. One needs to remember that when he wrote his epic history of the Second World War, with the second volume dealing with the battle emerging in 1949, he was leader of an opposition party with ambitions of re-taking power in the 1950 general election.

And back in the summer of 1940, Churchill had a war to win in his own Cabinet. He had a propaganda war to win and, as with all powerful statesmen conscious of themselves as historical figures, Churchill also had an eye to posterity.

For him, says Jim, history was a pageant of epic events. The Battle of Britain, a transition from his earlier view of it as the battle for Britain, was his Trafalgar of 1805, his battle of England's little ships against the mighty hulks of the Spanish Armada of 1588.

Thus, the history was not so much shaped by events as the events moulded into the history to tell a story which suited the ambitions of the author. To much history is written in this manner, with the claim that history is written by the victors having been attributed to Churchill himself.

One thing for sure, though, the "real" battle for Britain was more extensive, longer-lasting and more inclusive than the official version allows, and all the more interesting for that. And that is very much a modern message. The real story is so often more interesting than the story we are actually told.

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