St George’s Day and English tolerance

Walking around London today, on St Georges, there is little of the festivity or hype that can be found in Ireland around St Patrick’s Day. If you read the Poujadist tabloids, this can be explained by the betrayal of the Bruschetta-munching, namby-pamby, political-correctness-gone-mad, herd-of-independent-minds lupenintelligencia that read the Guardian. And the BMNPPCGMH0IMltrtG crowd will reply that the Flag of St George has been appropriated by the BNP or Empire Loyalists of varying descriptions.

A few days ago, I posted a preview of this video – timed to launch today – by Philosophy Football that aims to reclaim support for England in general and St George’s day in particular in the name of tolerance. (I wanted to post it here, but Slugger was struggling with the changeover):

This line – about five-and-a-half minutes in, there’s a line about how being English is about being tolerant. It’s a tough case to argue, but I think I would use these paras from Orwell’s fantastic Lion and the Unicorn in support of the view that the English – if not the historical expression of English imperialism – are an essentially tolerant beast:

“The gentleness of the English civilization is perhaps its most marked characteristic. You notice it the instant you set foot on English soil. It is a land where the bus conductors are good-tempered and the policemen carry no revolvers. In no country inhabited by white men is it easier to shove people off the pavement.

And with this goes something that is always written off by European observers as ‘decadence’ or hypocrisy, the English hatred of war and militarism. It is rooted deep in history, and it is strong in the lower-middle class as well as the working class. Successive wars have shaken it but not destroyed it.

Well within living memory it was common for ‘the redcoats’ to be booed at in the streets and for the landlords of respectable public houses to refuse to allow soldiers on the premises. In peace time, even when there are two million unemployed, it is difficult to fill the ranks of the tiny standing army, which is officered by the country gentry and a specialized stratum of the middle class, and manned by farm labourers and slum proletarians.

The mass of the people are without military knowledge or tradition, and their attitude towards war is invariably defensive. No politician could rise to power by promising them conquests or military ‘glory’, no Hymn of Hate has ever made any appeal to them. In the last war the songs which the soldiers made up and sang of their own accord were not vengeful but humorous and mock-defeatist. The only enemy they ever named was the sergeant-major.

In England all the boasting and flag-wagging, the ‘Rule Britannia’ stuff, is done by small minorities. The patriotism of the common people is not vocal or even conscious. They do not retain among their historical memories the name of a single military victory.

English literature, like other literatures, is full of battle-poems, but it is worth noticing that the ones that have won for themselves a kind of popularity are always a tale of disasters and retreats. There is no popular poem about Trafalgar or Waterloo, for instance. Sir John Moore’s army at Corunna, fighting a desperate rearguard action before escaping overseas (just like Dunkirk!) has more appeal than a brilliant victory.

The most stirring battle-poem in English is about a brigade of cavalry which charged in the wrong direction. And of the last war, the four names which have really engraved themselves on the popular memory are Mons, Ypres, Gallipoli and Passchendaele, every time a disaster. The names of the great battles that finally broke the German armies are simply unknown to the general public.”

, , ,

  • A tolerant England is a tough case to argue?

    Where have you been, entire towns have been changed beyond recognition, they have not been allowed to be proud of England for fear such bias might upset an immigrant, they are not allowed a national anthem, and during the last census they were not allowed to call themselves English.

    Orwell had it right, and we here are too fond of taking advantage of that tolerance whilst simultaneously condemning the opposite. It is as though some need to hate the English to be Irish.

  • Greenflag

    ‘It is as though some need to hate the English to be Irish.’

    ????? .The Irish do NOT hate the English . A few may have historical hangovers but they are not representative of the vast majority .

    Orwell’s picture may be a little out of date but is still largely true . I’d like to see them win the World Cup and if you are celebrating St George’s day good luck to you . Clever video and don’t forget
    ‘There’ll always be an England ‘etc -and just as well for all our sakes 😉

  • Greenflag

    No I am not celebrating St Georges Day. I got into enough trouble on St Patricks! lol.

    I just think the English have become the whipping boy for a lot of Irish people. If I hear one more person talk of a ‘foreign land’ whilst simultaneously collecting their British pension…

  • Greenflag

    ‘If I hear one more person talk of a ‘foreign land’ whilst simultaneously collecting their British pension…’

    Most Irish people live in the Irish Republic and thus don’t collect British pensions apart from a small minority of British pensioners resident in ROI . Those who collect British pensions in NI are divided into two tribes those who are loyal to the half crown and those who are disloyal to the crown or not very enamoured of it at any rate . But it would be wise not to read too much into what is often just ‘michael taking ‘ or ribbing for ‘whipping’. We Irish as somebody said are a fair people -we never speak well of each other so what hope have the English then ;)?

    In WW2 eight Irish ‘volunteers ‘ won VC’s serving in HMG’s forces . Seven were from the then Irish Free State and one was from Belfast , Northern Ireland and he was a Catholic .

    Unionists refer to the ‘mainland ‘ and many refer to the Irish Republic as a foreign country so if Irish people are referring to England as a foreign land it may just be ‘reciprocity’ at work once again . It’s all part of the NI condition -a peculiar mix of xenophobia , religious and racial intolerance and local tribalism /faction fighting . It’s endemic , systemic and quite possibly genetic and pathetic but there you have it . As long as the NI State exists in it’s present format nothing will change or if it does you’ll never notice it until it’s too late .

  • You should read a long dispute I had on another Slugger thread a couple of days ago (before the front page got boring). In true whataboutery fashion it turned into a debate about Irish soldiers who fought with the Brits in the 2nd WW…The word quisling is one I remember.

    I think those soldiers were heroes, regrettably they were not treated as such when they came home. The ones who wore British uniforms were treated worse than the ones who wore American uniforms…

    Almost the first person I spoke to when I came home referred to the ‘foreign land’, well I suppose it might have been foreign to him. He had only lived there for fifteen years. The next got her nursing training in England because she could not get into an Irish hospital to train. Did she have a good word for the Brits? No, mind you she went to see her family who live there….

    We do not hate the Brits, but we are afraid to be honest about our feelings for them. I find that an indication of our own lack of confidence. As for unionists, most of them do not know where they are well off, their culture would be illegal under the race discrimination laws, in the UK

  • Greenflag

    ‘I find that an indication of our own lack of confidence’

    The ‘mix’ of feelings between the Irish and English is one which has given rise to whole genres of literature , comedy and historical and sometimes even hysterical exaggerations.

    As for ‘unionists ‘ ? I’ve given up on them not as a people but as a viable longer term political ideology on this island .

    A now deceased relative who was in the Irish Army in the Emergency/WW2 knew what his orders were if we were invaded by the Germans . The order was to fight as long as possible in order to give the British time to launch a counter attack i.e rescue us . And if the British ‘invaded’ ? Orders were to fire a couple of rounds over their (British ) heads and surrender in double quick time to save unnecessary loss of life on all sides . Dev may not have known a lot about economics but he manouevred the country through very dangerous times

  • Dev is not one of my heroes. I think he liked Ireland to be a little bit poorer and in thrall to the RCC.

    It is true the relationship between the English and the Irish has always been volatile. I think my reaction is so outspoken because I have only been home for two years, such blatant, and there is no other word for it, racism is unfamiliar to me. It would be illegal in England, and I have noticed it is illegal here…

    As for the soldiers I believe the returning soldiers were badly treated. I also believe we still do not give them the credit they so richly deserve.

  • “Where have you been”

    Er… England, most of the time.

    “they have not been allowed to be proud of England for fear such bias might upset an immigrant, they are not allowed a national anthem”

    Jesus wept, I didn’t realise Daily Mail readers could type.

  • al

    Saw a guy at my union tonight wearing an English flag. Thought he was a neo-nazi or something but apparently it’s St Georges Day. Wouldn’t know it.