"Invasion literature" is a genre that it took WWI
to shock Europe out of, and which stayed intermittently present in the US. After reading on the subject I decided on this little project--especially since the anniversary of 1914: they're very much period pieces, feeding the fantasies that produced the cyclone of WWI--the fantasies that invasion or land war by foreign villains only awaited a fitting opportunity, that the country was crawling with spies, that one ensured peace with buildup and conscription, that we had to project strength and let nothing go unanswered lest we become "isolationist," constant visions of the foreign jackboot in one's little hometown. Like with An American Carol
or Liberality For All
it's a heated fantasy of "you'll be sorry you didn't listen," of decadence and degeneration--of buildup and moral rearmament against the threats of mobs (always "roiling") voting themselves benefits at the expense of their betters, of mixed marriages, suffragettes, and the Labour Party--a nation undermined by dissent, women, corruption, weak-willedness. One's own country, of course, was maligned and ganged-up on by everyone else yet stoically took up the duty of World Policeman to prevent losing all one's greatness. Lord Roberts insisted that "national service" was a panacea for everything--decline of international stature, Imperial unity, Col. E.C. Browne raging that it was being called "un-English" or "conscription," while Leo Maxse said Liberals and Jews had reduced Britain to "an island in the German Ocean, governed by Scotsmen, kicked by Irishmen and plundered by Welshmen." These stories are very much products of imperial Powers--featuring (or oddly ignoring) the new technologies already in use against weaker areas. Its danger isn't just in whipping up hatred against the utterly-evil and -treacherous (yet totally arbitrary and fungible) enemy, but in its fetishization of one's own nationwide victimhood: it wallows in self-compassion, builds it up to towering levels. Total abjection and total victory aren't opposites but twin elements of the same melodrama--each necessary for the other. One not only experiences one's victimhood before the fact, but the agonies and the act of hunting Them down and bringing them to justice (and they don't mean the courts) lets readers vicariously build up their righteous anger, an extremely addictive state of mind: it's a response without any stimulus (again dangerous, but in a Baudrillardian sense). The vicious attack the innocent in a hostile world, democracies learning the bitter lesson that only might can protect right. They kill Us at will, leaving the nation "fallen" or "stricken," building and feeding a terror of being at someone else's mercy (or "appeasing" them)--and panic at not "being a victim" is a great
way to sell weapons of any, ah, caliber. We of course are always innocent (even our spying and buildup). Stories of defeat are more warmongering than Kipling's hard victories: it's a vicariously-created demand for revenge, for what They're going
to do to Us. This persecution fantasy lets one fight an absolutely moral war, since what could be more moral than defending your own home? The maximum offensiveness, as we've seen since 1914, comes in the name of defense. Imagining war coming to one's house is done to increase military spending, not draw down international disputes and tensions.
The subgenre's also Verne's dark shadow, enthusing about lignite and mélinite and guncotton and submarines, reflecting the whole prewar era's thinking. Saying "that's war" delegates all responsibility to then machines and exults in their destructive power regardless of user or intent. Just Do Your Duty well without ever thinking why
: to 1880s-1910s Britons (or Europeans) the means justified the ends, I'm tempted to say. The US would actually enter WWI in the name of anti-militarism--supposedly to defeat an ideology that Germans were the elite of humanity, a race of supermen destined to conquer the world since right was might, war was a biological necessity, and that conquest was justified by the survival of the fittest. H.G. Wells announced that any sword drawn against Germany was drawn for peace, because Britain's role is to fight "a war to exorcise a world-madness": "every soldier who fights against Germany now is a crusader against war."
It's the same softheadedness that during WWI saw useless busybody society ladies and others gave any young man they saw a white feather
to shame them into dying for nothing--soldiers on leave were barraged by what they called these "idiotic young women," some even en route to their Victoria Cross! Social Darwinism said society had made survival too easy, leaving low-quality lifeforms to hang on everyone's collective teat: true humanitarianism meant letting lower life just die. In the US the right superweapon will let us defeat all evil empires, wage war to end all wars, and make the world eternally safe for democracy.
Lt. Col. George Tomkyns Chesney kicked it off with The Battle of Dorking
(1871) (oh stop laughing, it's a town in Surrey), here in blue vs. red. It's short and very unremarkable. His Englishmen are thunderstuck and incredulous, one six-year-old expiring "his little arms stretched out, his hair dabbled in blood." "A nation too selfish to defend its liberty could not have been fit to retain it," and democracy had allowed in the "lower classes, uneducated, untrained to use of political rights, and swayed by demagogues." Lord Tennyson agreed that "Better a rotten borough or so/ Than a rotten fleet and a city in flames!"
George Griffith and Fred T. Jane's agitprop had Royal Navy crack shots getting tremendous pleasure out of killing one’s fellow man, picking off brutal rioters and orgiastic looters. During 1882-3 the presses kept insisting Dover was full of Gallic restaurateurs, waiters, bootmakers, milliners, pastry-cooks, all of them trained soldiers waiting for fake tourists or Zouaves to pop out of the Chunnel or leaping from the excursion train. As for "Capitaine Danrit" his La guerre en rase campagne
(1891) called on the children, elderly, and clergy of France to destroy the entire east of France to recover Alsace-Lorraine: "From today all quarrels among ourselves have disappeared--buried beneath an ardent love for France!" La guerre en fortresse
(1892) said "We are fighting for our lives, for our survival, for our homes. If we are defeated, we shall be removed from the map of Europe; we shall cease to be a military power."
It's utopian--a perfected army-society, vieux bon
taking up the rife to reclaim sacred soil, politics and labor forgotten amidst French revanche
or British stern indomitableness, Louis Tracy's The Final War (1896) has war as bringing a
"more practical Socialism ... than had been dreamed of or spoken of by philosophical reformers in as many centuries," the rich no longer idle and the poor no longer resentful. Likewise Colmar von der Goltz said that they must be prepared for "a final struggle for the existence and greatness of Germany" by ensuring that "self-denial, and cheerful sacrifice ... wax ever stronger in our hearts and in those of our children ... [to] enter upon the coming conflict with full assurance of ultimate victory." Through the nation the People would reconstruct the world itself, satisfying every need and desire. The cardinal virtues became love (for self) and hate (against the Enemy), total victory, total defeat, total peace, life and death.
Lt. Col. Guy du Maurier's An Englishman's Home
(1909) has a feckless and spoiled suburban family playing diabolo
and worrying about wreaths, ditties, and sandwiches rather than learning "discipline and how to use a rifle" as they ought to. They even dare mock the line "Courage, my lads; steel your brave hearts; yonder stands the Invader. He has dared to scale the white cliffs of old England" and resent the Volunteer exercises' fuss and racket. But then! Prussian cavalry commandeers their house for an HQ! One son is shot at the window and Father "becomes from instinct a fighting man" but the valiant commuter freeholder fends off bayonets for only so long and is ordered shot: Daughter is dragged off screaming and a rifle volley is heard, and the curtain falls.
Du Maurier wrote during a spy panic where Quarterly Review
could claim that London's 50,000 German waiters were all spies and The Weekly News
's "spy editor's" column "Have Our Readers Met Any Spies?" asked readers to out them and their "adventures with them ... the photographs, charts and plans they are preparing." This shameless publicity stunt was what created MI5. Sir John Barlow MP asked Secretary of State for War Richard Haldane whether he knew of Germany's 66,000 trained soldiers in London and that within a quarter-mile of Charing Cross there were 50,000 Mausers and 5 or 7.5 million rounds. A certain Col. Driscoll insisted there were 350,000 German spies 1909. During WWI suburban tennis courts were inspected to make sure they weren't advance agents' secret foundations for siege guns for when the time came. Even before WWI The Morning Post said "Intern them all"--even if it was only their surname that was Teutonic. Walter Wood's The Enemy in Our Midst (1906) has the Germans knowing every cul-de-sac, pub, dairy, fruitmonger's, and telephone exchange. Le Queux insisted he'd seen them crouching under railway bridges, taking bike rides in Epping Forest, and asking questions about reservoirs. With the declaration of war bakeries and watch-shops were wrecked looking for Kraut poisoners or barbers cutting English throats; trunks of German governesses were searched for bombs. The London Gazette published a convenient index of how German names could be Anglicized—Rosenheim becoming "Rose," Schecht "Dent."
Perhaps the central force of this genre was William Le Queux, whose The Great War in England in 1897
(1894), cyan vs. orange, and The Invasion of 1910
(1906), green vs. magenta, both clock in at 350 pages of uneven, interminable, and exhausting penny-dreadful prose. Despite the piteous deaths, hideous atrocities, and gallant language I actually couldn't bring myself to care: these are very noticeably the works of a writer and culture that not only hadn't experienced industrialized warfare, but even given 1870s conditions the entire subgenre's scenarios still remained quite impossible: they just couldn't imagine real carnage or yearslong wars. There's a terrible sense of unreality saturating even the soldiers' works, but Le Queux's lunatic tactics make the entire works goddamn impossible, as can be seen in my map. Perhaps half his described battles have any plausibility, and important battles and cities are dropped outright. Lord Northcliffe in fact hired Le Queux to find the likeliest invasion routes, but to boost Daily Mail
sales the Uhlans were sent into every town from Sheffield to Chelmsford--avoiding the "remote one-eyed country villages where there was no possibility of large Daily Mail sales,
" and sandwich-board men in Pickelhauben told Londoners of the "daily progress
." The invaders always sweep through 3-5 counties in one go, and zip around within each county by the strangest ways; first the attackers are completely invincible, then suddenly The People Rise Up and kill 50% of the soldiers. But it's not just that the subgenre's scenarios are implausible, but that the subgenre is itself entirely wrongheaded: any plausibility they have is there to cover up the nonsensical tactics and the even-greater nonsense of the specific scenario. Unsurprisingly this was deliberate, with the books rewritten so the Scheißpreiß'
take the towns Lord Northcliffe
needed to sell more subscriptions in: the illustrations of the Double Eagle raised over town halls went with Lord Northcliffe's 1895 Portsmouth election campaign where his posters showed Town Hall Square packed, piled with dead and he purchased The Portsmouth Mail
. It's self-indulgent as much as it's a callow shout of "They want war so Let's give it to Them!": hundreds of British, French, and soon German works preached their fictive necessary violence, but an extreme Nothing-Personal stiff-upper-lip cavalier casualness: war's horrid, yes, but it's all that stands before total humiliation or shameful occupation. Le Queux introduced the tone of nonsense masquerading as truths the effete and hidebound are too craven to admit, the media silence on the German waiters and Frisian armadas only further proof. A specific example today might be Frank Miller, where utter impotence generates his sadass fantasies of justified, omnipotent, joyous vengeance--why the Enemy wants
to die: his Hero is a brave, violent Bad Ass ignoring laws and values to serve higher interests (that of the superior Self) and Taking Down any amount of foes--"Psychotic but essentially good man has reached middle age and feels impotent because he hasn't beaten anyone up in a few years." The entire subgenre--of victims perishing in the teeming millions, of the satisfaction of being proven 100% right and foresightful, of unreal bloodshed, parallels both the contemporary Futurists' demands for machinery and destruction and the 90s and 00s' "dumber, louder, grittier" trends that just don't do it well.
In the first work it's the damn French who "are looking forward to a day not far hence when their battleships will bombard our south coast towns, and their legions advance over the Surrey Hills to London"; Britain, in its insular egotism, scoffs at those who try to warn it: "we are content to sit idly by" while Paris and St. Petersburg undermine us every day; "Everything we possess, everything we hold dear, our position among nations, our very life, depends for its safety" on the British Army--and yet we play while "A mighty force was on its way to ruin their homes, to sweep from them their hard-earned savings, to crush, to conquer--to kill them!" Newhaven's shelled--"Twenty-four hours ago England was smiling, content in the confidence of its perfect safety and immunity from invasion" but now bewildered Sussexmen are falling "shattered and lifeless"; Anarchists and Socialists raise the Red Flag and Phrygian Cap preaching arson and murder, bringing London's bloodied "scum" to the Strand, Pall Mall, and Parliament Street, looting the gold, detonating 34 coppers in one bomb, blowing holes in St Stephen’s Hall
and Westminster Abbey; a mob of 3,000 slashes the paintings at the National Gallery, roaring "What do we want with Art? Burn down the useless palace!" to cheers and "La Marsellaise" until the 10th Royal Hussars kill all the rioters. Manchester, Salford, Stockport, Pendleton, Liverpool, and York riot against the Government that ignored the Circassian buildup and tunnels and bridges are cut; Bradford Town Hall
is detonated. "Those who were now living in then peaceful atmospheres of their homes, surrounded by neighbours and friends ... might within a few days be shot down by French rifles, or mowed down brutally by gleaming Cossack shushkas
." Eastbourne and Newhaven fall before 300,000 grey-coated Russians: hundreds are gunned down in their suits and ties guarding their own homes in the sleepy, upper-class resort, babies bayonetted and fathers and sons gunned down side-by-side, the Russians laughing lustily at each plea for mercy; steeples are toppled and the night is abolished by searchlights. Hull's bombed, its screaming residents blind with terror, the Wilberforce Memorial pounded to rubble, its gilt William III dashed to the pavement; Newcastle's already starving, its dogs and cats all eaten, South Shields running red with blood as hundreds are blown to bits, Grey’s Monument
squashing dozens. East-Enders sack Kensington's townhouses, groceries, clubs, hotels, "priceless vintages" of port and sherry flowing in the streets, Whitechapel and Shoreditch "maddened by drink." Whitley
's women and children are slaughtered for sport, its churches burnt, Reading and Banbury burned, Oxford sacked. Birmingham falls, 2,000 Russians dead before the Exchange, the Law Courts
burn, the Art Gallery
’s treasures slashed by sabres, the yellow-and-black Double Eagle raised above the Council House
The Royal Navy
levels Marseille and Algiers, while Mt. Athos is revealed to be full of the Tsar's soldiers under monastic garb. Mancunians are determined "to die like Britons with faces towards the foe" out of duty, Stretford running red with blood (as usual) and 12,000 Britons dying "with their white lifeless faces upturned to the twinkling stars"--but almost 100,000 Russians have been killed in Manchester's streets. In Edinburgh 60,000 Russians hack down the weak and unprotected and the downtown is burned, the Eagle raised over the Castle
, but they're all killed trying to take Glasgow. Men die of hunger in Hyde Park and Kensington Garden, women sinking down dead on doorsteps, "babes at their breasts"--then the artillery starts pounding London: "Women wept and wailed, men uttered words of blank despair, and children screamed at an unknown terror ... rushing madly about like frightened sheep, [and] felt that this was indeed their last hour," St Paul's losing its dome and a tower, the blind-panicked herd atomized by the hundreds, helpless, shrieking hundreds pouring into the dark waters as bridges collapse, Pall Mall's "time-mellowed walls" turned to toothpicks, the Duke of York Column downed, the Athenaeum torn up like wet pasteboard, Burlington Arcade leveled, Battersea a pillar of flame, Victoria Tower flattened, Westminster Abbey burned, Nelson's Column snapped in half, St Bride
's bells laying in the rubble. Rich and poor lie "weltering in their blood," gasping prayers for their family with their last breath amidst "Babylon's downfall." But the Irish come from the west and the Gurkhas and Sikhs, hardened against the Hill Tribes, from the Thames' mouth; hundreds of French are gunned down in Surrey and are killed to a man at Caterham: "the enemy that had for weeks overrun or smiling land like packs of hungry wolves, wantonly burning our homes and massacring the innocent and protected, had at length met with their well-merited deserts, and now lay spread over the miles of pastures, cornfields, and forests, stark, cold, and dead"--but London's left "parallel lines of gaunt, blackened ruins," the dusty, ragged defenders met by people cheering themselves hoarse and thanksgivings in every church and chapel. Now comes "a new era of prosperity ... a period of happiness and rejoicing, and Britannia, grasping her trident again, seated herself on her shield beside the sea, Ruler of the Waves, Queen of Nations, and Empress of the World."
Le Queux's second novel is of course no less shameless, both alarmist and alarming. The creators wanted to "bring home to the British public vividly and forcibly what really would occur were an enemy suddenly to appear in our midst," quoting Lord Roberts that "I sometimes despair of the country ever becoming alive to the danger of the unpreparedness of our present position until too late to prevent some fatal catastrophe" and thus the need for reservists, rifle clubs, and universal conscription. Le Queux bragged that he took "the facts exactly as they stood" and had driven 10,000 miles from the Thames to the Tyne, checking every vantage, military position, and landing-place, and had his scenarios reviewed by the "highest authorities on strategy." PM Campbell-Bannerman had condemned it as jingoistic and alarming the ignorant--but that only showed what he
thought of Britons, now didn't it? It only confirmed "that the Government are strenuously seeking to conceal from our people the appalling military weakness and the consequent danger to which the country is constantly open. To be weak is to invite war: to be strong is to prevent it." Germans pour into East Anglia, "the surprise landing that had so often in recent years been predicted by military critics"--"Yes, they should have listened to Lord Roberts," one old village sage says; another concurs and "recollected too well the repeated warnings of the past five years, serious warnings by men who knew our shortcomings, but to which no attention had been paid. Both the Government and the public had remained apathetic, the idea of peril had been laughed to scorn, and the country had, ostrich-like, buried its head in the sand, and allowed Continental nations to supersede us in business, in armaments, in everything. The danger of invasion had always been ridiculed as a mere alarmist's fiction; those responsible for the defence of the country had smiled, the Navy had been reduced, and the Army had remained in contented inefficiency. If the blow had really been struck by Germany? If she had risked three or four, out of her twenty-three, army corps [i.e., 250,000 troops], and had aimed at the heart of the British Empire? ... We are living under a Government whose leader lost no time in announcing that no fear of being sneered at as a 'Little Englander' would deter him from seeking peace and ensuring it by a reduction of our naval and military armaments, even at that time known to be inadequate to the demands likely to be made upon them if our Empire is to be maintained." The German Commander-in-Chief decrees death for spies, combatants out of uniform, misleading Germans "when charged to serve as guides," robbery, damage to bridges, canals, wires, gasometers, roads, or ammo, and the occupied must furnish 1 lb. 10 oz. bread, 13 oz. meat, 3 lb. potatoes, 1 oz. tea, 1 pint wine per German and 13 lb. oats, 3 hay, 3 straw per horse, or 1 shilling/day/German; the East Anglians sullenly lie under "German military discipline, the most rigorous and drastic in the whole world," going "from the protection of the British flag to the militarism of the German." Weybourne had been guarded in 1588 and 1803--but was now fatally neglected. The entire Royal Navy is sunk--but the fault lies with "The British public, which, in its apathetic attitude towards military efficiency, aided and abetted by the soothing theories of the extremists of the 'Blue Water' school [those favoring deepwater as the first line of defense], had, as usual, neglected to provide an Army fitted to cope in numbers and efficiency with those of our Continental neighbours." Towns are occupied to the sound of howling abandoned cats. The hotels are emptied as thousands of German waiter-spies make for the invaders' HQ. Arson, verbal opposition to occupation, or assisting British soldiers gets the death penalty or 20 years' hard servitude. Manchester and Birmingham fall in passim
At Harlow "the pale up-turned faces of the dead turned to heaven as if calling for vengeance on their slayers," the Volunteers "victims of a selfish nation that accepted these poor fellows' gratuitous services merely in order that its citizens should not be obliged to carry out what in every other European country was regarded as the first duty of citizenship--that of learning to bear arms in the defence of the Fatherland." Enfield runs red with blood and Uhlans encircle the northern suburbs, residents seeing the "ruthless destruction of their pretty, long-cherished homes, flight into the turbulent, noisy, distracted, hungry city, and the loss of everything they possessed," wives giving one last look over all their possessions, plate and jewelry hidden under floorboards and garden shrubs. "Everywhere people were regretting that Lord Roberts' solemn warnings in 1906 had been unheeded, for had we adopted his scheme for universal service such dire catastrophe could never have occurred. Many had, alas! declared it to be synonymous with conscription, which it certainly was not, and by that foolish argument had prevented the public at large from accepting it as the only means for our salvation as a nation. The repeated warnings had been disregarded," and now British knew what war really
means! "Frontiersmen" and fowlers by the thousands head to north London as snipers, often burned alive or swinging from telephone poles, the local parish burned in retribution. Enraged mobs wipe out whole squads of invaders, but the shelling commences, with "men and women blown out of recognition, with their clothes singed and torn to shreds, and helpless, innocent children lying white and dead, their limbs torn away and missing": St Pancras Church
turned into rubble
, the Foundling Hospital
a furnace, Tottenham Court Road in shivers, quiet Bloomsbury a yawning ruin, everyone in Northern Hospital
killed or maimed. The Underground's power goes out and the trapped mass panics, stairs and tunnels packed with "women and children, quickly crushed to death, or thrown down and trampled upon by the press behind": they "fought with each other, pressing on and becoming jammed so tightly that many were held against the sloping walls until life was extinct," ladies of Park Lane, Kensington, Belgravia, Grosvenor Square, and Mayfair piled with laborers' wives, all "on account of the foolish cry that the German were waiting above. The railway officials were powerless. They had done their best to prevent any one going below, but the public had insisted." The British Museum is accidentally hit, "the finest collection of books, manuscripts, Greek and Roman and Egyptian antiques, coins, medals, and prehistoric relics" gone, though there's enough Raphaels, Titians, Rubenses, Fra Angelicos, Velásquezes, Elgin Marbles, Egyptian, Assyrian, and Roman antiques, Rosetta Stone, Biblical and Classical manuscripts, historic English charters cataloged for their removal to Berlin; St Paul's interior is shredded, the Royal Exchange
's statues torn up, Leadenhall Street tumbles down, the Shot Tower
falls into the Thames, Big Ben tilts dangerously, Edward the Confessor's shrine, the Coronation Chair
, and all other Westminster antiquities annihilated, the bronze guard statues at Hyde Park Corner
tossed a few yards. "Every man fought well and bravely for his country, though he went to his death," a thousand Victoria Crosses in the face of certain death in defense of home and family, dozens of episodes of bloody house-to-house fighting: "the moonbeams shone upon the pallid faces of the fallen" "all, alas! due to one cause alone--the careless insular apathy of the Englishman himself!" Enraged civilians dismember Germans, hundreds of invaders killed by women with hatchet and knife, but their numbers make even Maxims irrelevant, any armed civilian butchered, even children. World-famous specialists from Harley Street
and Cavendish Square kneel
over soldiers of both sides, even girls looking into eternity in the makeshift cathedral hospitals, "their white lips moving in prayer." Foraging parties are led by German-Britons: "it was now seen how complete and helpful the enemy's system of espionage had been in London. Most of these men were Germans who, having served in the army, had come over to England and obtained employment as waiters, clerks, bakers, hairdressers, and private servants, and being bound by their oath to the Fatherland had served their country as spies. Each man, when obeying the Imperial command to join the German arms, had placed in the lapel of his coat a button of a peculiar shape, with which he had long ago been provided, and by which he was instantly recognised as a loyal subject of the Kaiser. This huge body of German soldiers, who for years had passed in England as civilians ... acted as guides not only on the march and during the entry to London, but materially assisted in the victorious advance in the Midlands. Indeed, the Germans had for years kept a civilian army in England, and yet we had, ostrich-like, buried our heads in the sand, and refused to turn our eyes to the grave peril that had for so long threatened," the German marshal "knew more of Eastern England than the British Commander himself" thanks to these spies. "The enemy were taking the food from the mouths of the poor in East and South London": fighting class division too much leaves us open to invasion, which is of course a yoke far worse.
But Tory MP Gerald Graham [henceforth "Gerald Mary-Sue Britler"] says Britain has millions of soldiers available--its people, natch. The League of Defenders is organized for the war "that shall either result in their total extermination or in the power of England being extinguished. Englishmen will die hard." Rich and poor come side by side, helping frantic mothers discover whether their little ones had "died of starvation or been trampled underfoot by the panic-stricken multitudes." South London is reinforced with "scientific" packed-earth, sand, stone, tile, and brick barricades rather than ramshackle affairs of pavingstones and tramcars. Storming from the West, "The name of Graham was now upon every one's lips. He had, it seemed, arisen as saviour of our beloved country. Every word of his inspired enthusiasm, and this was well illustrated at the mass meeting on Peckham Rye
, when, beneath the huge flag of St George, the white banner with the red cross--the ancient standard of England--which the League had adopted as theirs, he made a brilliant and impassioned appeal to every Londoner and every Englishman. Report had it that the Germans had set a price upon his head, and that he was pursued everywhere by German spies ... he was compelled to go about with an armed police guard, who arrested any suspected person in his vicinity. The Government, who had at first laughed Graham’s enthusiasm to scorn, now believed in him. ... Government, Army, Navy, and Parliament had all proved rotten reeds. It was now every man for himself--to free himself and his loved ones--or to die in the attempt." Some Defenders are betrayed and court-martialed at Bow Street, there's risings (though "sharp crackling showed that the Germans had settled down to their work," massacring everything in a house), bystanders looking out their windows gunned down. Hundreds are executed at St Pancras Station and Dorchester House
's walls: "Those chosen knew that their last hour had come. Some clasped their hands and fell upon their knees, imploring pity, while others remained silent and stubborn patriots. One man, his face covered with blood and his arm broken, sat down and howled in anguish, and others wept in silence. Some women--wives and daughters of the condemned men--tried to get within [Hyde] Park to bid them adieu and to urge courage, but the soldiers beat them back with their rifles. Some of the men laughed defiantly, others met death with a stony stare. The eye-witness saw the newly-dug pit that served as common grave, and he stood by and saw them shot and their corpses afterwards flung into it. One young fair-haired woman, condemned by [Gen.] Von Kleppen, rushed forward to that officer, threw herself upon her knees, imploring mercy, and protested her innocence wildly. But the officer, callous and pitiless, simply motioned to a couple of soldiers." Londoners out of their minds with terror dig their own graves under the eyes of the firing squad
. Britler thunders that "London will rise as a man, and ... Socialists, Nonconformists, Labour agitators, Anarchists, and demagogues will unite with us in one great national patriotic effort to exterminate our conquerors as we would exterminate vermin." South London's an impregnable for of 1 million souls joined as one: Britler's name is on everyone's lips as he raises troops everywhere and gathers speakers who arouse the country "to the highest pitch of hatred," youths and pensioners drilling navvies, gangers, bricklayers, tylers, farmhands, moved by one mind, that of the new Arthur, "Peer and peasant, professional man and pauper, all are now united with one common object." "ENGLISHMEN! Your Homes Are Desecrated! Your Children Are Starving! Your Loved Ones Are Dead! ... WILL YOU BECOME GERMANS? NO! ... You have England's Millions beside you. ... Let us exterminate every single man who has desecrated English soil." "ENGLAND'S MILLIONS ARE READY TO RISE!" Saxons and Bremeners are killed to a man by rifle fire, armed citizens killing hundreds of the professionals, 2,000 slaughtered in Bloomsbury. "RISE, FEARLESS AND STERN. Let 'England for Englishmen' be your battle-cry, and avenge the blood of your wives and your children." "The hard, grasping employer and the smug financier, who had hitherto kept scrupulous accounts, and have been noteworthy on account of their uncharitableness, have now, in the hour of need, come forward." London Bridge artillery shells the City, Saxons butchered without quarter but the South Londoners move too fast and are machine-gunned, an "inert and invertebrate mass," while at Ickenham the "swaying" masses are "ridden down and slaughtered with no more difficulty than if they had been a flock of sheep" by the hundreds. Every house is full of rifle fire and cuirassiers are torn limb by limb by vengeful mobs: "The British are dull and apathetic, but, once roused, they fight like fiends ... [their] hatred knows no bounds, and only blood will atone for the wholesale slaughter of the innocent." Wild housewives "with screams of fiendish delight" burn Germans alive. But "Socialism, with its creed of 'Thou shalt have no other god but Thyself', and its doctrine, 'Let us eat and drink, for to-morrow we die', had replaced the religious beliefs of a generation of Englishmen taught to suffer and to die sooner than surrender to wrong"and Britler is only a Minister: "the spirit of the nation quailed, and there was really no great leader to recall it to ways of honour and duty." It's "The Socialist dream": "There were few rich left, but the consequences to the poor, instead of being beneficial, were utterly disastrous" thanks to the 3½ shilling-a-pound income tax driving the job-creators away.
This fiction is in fact quite central to both world wars, in its message but perhaps also in its ruthless and bloody-minded penny-dreadful sentimentalism (after all, someone's a danger because of what they'll do to you, not because they're "bad" in general). Hitler in fact quite envied the fevered mobilization WWI Britain had (as opposed to France and Germany's chauvinistic military technocracy, finding German propaganda to be quite far behind). Since the 1870s Europe had fed on a literature posing the nation-state as the sole source of justice and supreme arbiter in human affairs, and war as the purpose of a nation and a people's existence, the thing that broke one out of being a mere producing/consuming meat-machine. The nation-state could even make you, every one of you, immortal: "What stands if Freedom fall?/ Who dies if England live?"
From the Creel Commission to both Ministries of Information and its hate campaign to the entire Nazi apparatus, the long and fetid history of war propaganda and hysteria isn't an outlier: the frightening and maniacal chanting, cheering, flag-waving mobs reveal not a slipping mask of civilization, but instead signal that the people have made their perfect identification with it. The virginal Bill Kristol still enthuses that "A war-weary public can be awakened and rallied. Indeed, events are right now doing the awakening. All that’s needed is the rallying."Previous Next