Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Colonel Blimp

I watched The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp with Deborah Kerr and Roger Livesey the other night. Filmed during The War, this is a portrait of how we see ourselves here in the world-wide Anglo-American empire. According to Blimp, we are long-suffering, good humoured and forgiving. We are generous to a fault, especially if we are British. (We can't be too sure about those Americans, you know.) We fight to win, but we never fight dirty. We are the perennial good-guys, helping everyone, even our enemies. We spread good cheer.

Actually, we may have been the main source of trouble in the world since Queen Elizabeth I (Good Queen Bess) and her father, King Henry VIII. The Tudors. But this may actually go back a thousand years, all the way back to William the Conqueror who brought military dictatorship to Saxon Britain. Remember Richard Coeur de Lion (Good King Richard, the Great Crusader)? Watch this movie, Blimp, if you have a chance.

Have you noticed how we can say "The War" without saying which war? That may be because "The War" or "The good War" was the last war we "won". Although we continue to run a world-wide empire, things have not really been going that well since 1945. We haven't won a war since then. Why not? Why did we win that war?

Let's consider that the main business of the 20th century was not its innumerable wars. Let's consider that it was not even about the destruction of the "old order" — all eleven of the empires that existed until 1900 would be swept away. Let's consider that the main business of the 20th century was the shift of power in the empire from London (the British Empire) to Washington (the American Empire) and that though we "won" The War (that is, WW I and WWII which were really one war), we may not really be in control of anything.

It is possible that nobody is in control: not of what has happened, not of what is happening now, and not of what is going to happen. What people do does affect what happens, but it doesn't determine the overall direction, or result. Intriguing…

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