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Saturday, January 14, 2012

A Body without a Heart: Ignorance of the British Identity


    The subject of British identity tends to come up quite often in my conversations with various friends and acquaintances. There are those in this country who seem to indulge in an emotional euphoria with regards to the possibility of Scotland breaking away from "England" or "The British Empire", as they often put it. The monarchy tends to be viewed in a decidedly skeptical, sarcastic light, and the traditions that have been the continual flow of British cultural life are shrugged off as "quaint" or even stupid.  In Britain itself, the Christian identity and moral principles that have served as the bulwark of the nation for thousands of years have virtually been abandoned. There is a haunting sense that the United Kingdom, as a country and as a culture, is being dismissed as something obsolete, a body that has no heart, an oppressive empire that has collapsed, and a land that is faithless, hopeless, and loveless. It hurts me deeply to watch it happening from afar.

    Since a very young age, I have been drawn to the heritage of UK through its stories and songs, its struggles against tyrants and internal fractions, its Christian, and especially Catholic, heroes and heroines. All of these things continue to influence me in my daily life, and a certain part of me, I feel, will always be connected to that land I have yet to see. The idea of it self-destructing and self-dissecting sickens me. England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland are distinct and yet one, forged into a common identity for a common purpose. They each hold representation in the UK Parliament according to their respective populations, share a head-of-state, and have helped establish a proud military tradition which continues to this day.  Through the years, English, Scottish, Welsh, and Irish men have died fighting side by side, often in order to defend their liberties against tyrants such as Napoleon and Hitler. They built a country, and yes, an empire which cast its influence over the world, sometimes for the better and other times for the worse.

    A sense of unhealthy nationalism, a haughty pride of race, reared its ugly head during the Imperial project. Many Britons began to feel they were superior to the rest of humanity merely because they lived on an island that came to possess vast expanses of territory. They could be cruel to those they conquered, and snobbish to those who they dealt with. The situation needed to be amended, and indeed it was hammered down through the cost of war and pressure from abroad. The Empire was transformed into The Commonwealth comprised of sovereign nations. Today, some of these countries – such as Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and Jamaica – continue to have particularly close ties with the mother country and share a head of state as Commonwealth Realms.

    But the pendulum kept swinging. Economic and social trouble, along with an aura of post-imperial limbo, caused a lack of identity to creep into the British psyche. Sooner than later, the Union Flag came under fire. Some considered it to be a symbol of the jingoistic imperialism or Northern Irish terrorism or a by-gone era that had no place in modern society that was plagued with the questions: "Who are we?" "What are we?" "What do we believe?" "Where are we going?" But for many throughout the world, the unique pattern combining the Crosses of St. George, St. Andrew, and St. Patrick continues to be seen as a symbol of freedom, unity, the rule of law, and Christianity. No one, no much how much they cry and complain, can take the worth of the British national flag away from them. Nevertheless, the defeatists spread their pessimistic attitude far and fast like the plague. They came to the conclusion that the British identity was not worth reforming or preserving, and then drew an overriding patriotism from their locality.

    The Scots became "more Scottish than British" and the Welsh became "more Welsh than British," while the Northern Irish continued to be tormented by extremist movements within Unionism and Republicanism alike. All three nations liked to think of themselves as being in an exclusive club called "The Celtic Nations." Never mind the fact that their populations, like that of England, were made up of a mix of ethnic group, including the Danes and the Normans. Identity had to be established, and if they couldn't rely of the British one any longer, they would have stake their claim with a wandering tribe of head-hunters that would go on to inspire a generation of folk musicians to express their connection to the "secret people" by adopting prehistoric hairstyles and writing protest songs for the purported good of an overpopulated and polluted planet. The real shame is that these same conscientious objectors to humanity unavoidably contributed to both blights to the echo system by their very presence in that sphere.


Last Surviving Union Jack from the Battle of Trafalgar, 1805


 

10 comments:

  1. Eloquently written - your passion for and perception of the United Kingdom's heritage is well-expressed throughout the essay. It amazes me how much you know about British history!

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  2. Thanks so much for reading and posting your kind comment, Mary! I tend to spend a lot of my time studying British things, but I have a long way to go. Understanding the ebb and flow of UK politics and culture is extremely difficult, especially for a foreigner. But I'm a-trying. Lord grant me the Gift of Understanding!

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  3. Hey there!
    Thought I'd comment on this post since it had the Trafalgar Flag photo! You not long ago watched a video that my dad uploaded for me about Lord Nelson's 250th Birthday, so I thought I'd reply and check out your blog (which is fascinating by the way!). I haven't read 'For God and Glory', but I have heard of it, so do you think it's worth checking out? Also, although we don't actually live near Portsmouth, we have been there on holiday many times and if you ever do get the chance to visit Porstmouth, I would definately recommend visiting the Victory as she truly is an amazing site! Every time I revisit her there's always something new to look at that I somehow failed to spot the last time!

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  4. Welcome, Rae-Rae!

    Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment. I'm glad you liked the Trafalgar flag photo :-) I think it's so cool that it still exists with bullet wholes and everything!

    Actually, I was unable to watch the video on youtube because my computer is slow-speed and wouldn't load it. I'm sure it's great, though!

    Yes, I would definately recommend 'For God and Glory'. It was terrific and very insightful study of Nelson's personal beliefs and fighting style. Not the typical biography, but that's why I liked it :-)Do you have any favorite books on Nelson?

    Also, have you ever come across a movie about him other than 'That Hamilton Woman'? I'm so suprised if a new production hasn't been produced focusing on his exploits. I mean, his 250th anniversary wasn't that long ago and the hype was high.

    I'd love to visit the Victory someday. It must be a very moving experience to get the chance to go there. So, whereabouts do you live?

    Please stop by again soon!

    God Bless,
    Pearl

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    1. Hi There,

      Sorry about my late reply!

      I live in the midlands in the UK, but I hope to live in Portsmouth one day as it is my favourite place on Earth! :)

      One of my favourite Nelson books is a medical biography, in which the author, Dr A-M E Hills, goes over his wounds, illnesses, character, religion etc, which I really liked as it gave a different perspective of Nelson. I also like any Colin White books, as it is obvious how passionate, as well as knowlegeable he was.

      There have been a few movies about Nelson but they were all from the last century, and the most recent was 30 years ago! This was infact not a movie, but a four-part television series from 1982, which focused on the views of Nelson and his actions from those around him. It is a lot more realistic than any movies from before, but I find that, in their aim to make him appear more human, they left out his kindliness, and charismatic charm that many people reported, although they do agood job of bringing out his less honourable qualities, which were often glossed over before. It's also limited on his life at sea, and does not go any earlier than 1798, before he was a hero. However, it is definately worth a watch and I would recommend it, especially as it is quite cheap from Amazon.

      Hope that was helpful!

      Take Care,
      Rae-Rae

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  5. Hi, Rae-Rae.

    When you say "the Midlands", what shires are you closest to? I do hope you get to migrate to Portsmouth someday. It does sound like an amazing place to visit and/or live.

    Thank you for the book suggestions. I'm definately going to look into the medical one you mentioned. Was the title something like "Nelson's Surgeon"? Somehow, that title sticks in my memory from a book search on Shelfari online book club.

    I'm so suprised a modern movie on Nelson hasn't been produced. I mean, the guy certainly had an active enough existence and riveting enough legacy to merit it! Maybe we should set up a petition, ha, ha!

    The '82 series sounds interesting, although it is pathetic that portrayals sway from one extreme to other, i.e. "good" Nelson, "bad" Nelson. He was obviously no saint, and proved himself to be an extreme egotist, an adulterer, and rather bloody-minded at times. However, he also was a brilliant commander who cared about his men and won their deep love and respect.

    Once again, thank you for the suggestions. Please keep us updated about any new Nelson books/flicks that might come out!

    God Bless,
    Pearl

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  6. Hi there, Pearl!

    I'm so sorry, I can't believe I was silly enough to not tell you what the book was called! It's Nelson: A Medical Casebook, by Dr A-M. E. Hills.

    I live in Worcestershire, which, I'm delighted to say, Nelson visited during his tour of the Midlands and Wales in 1802. Infact, he actually went through my town, which gave me great pleasure when I found out!

    While I'm gutted that a new (and more realistic) Nelson film doesn't appear to be coming any time soon, I can't say I'm really that surprised. Nelson just isn't really that hip any more over here, and even less in Hollywood! Nevertheless, I still do hope that one day the great man will make a reappearance on the big screen,or at least on television! I think he's deserving of it!

    Take Care,
    Rae-Rae

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  7. Hello again, Rae-Rae!

    Thank you for posting the title. Now, after I dig my way out of the books I am already reading, I shall go in search of it!

    Ah, so you live in sauce country? Terrific! We use it all the time on London Broil steaks - which I hear didn't really come from London! So what's the deal with Worcestershire sauce? Is it a local creation or a using the name of your county under false pretenses?

    How interesting that Lord Nelson came through you town. Did he do anything special there, or is there a sign outside a certain building saying "Lord Nelson stayed here." We have one of those for Benjamin Franklin in our area!

    What a pity that Nelson has fallen in popularity and considered "un-hip". But really, the best things in this world tend to be "un-hip". The world "hip" implies a fading fad, and Nelson's legacy is far from that. It would be cool if a feature-length, realistic film would come out about him some time, either from Hollywood or BBC.

    I plan on putting up a blog post comparing Nelson and Wolfe soon. Please stop by again soon and let me know what you think.

    Best Wishes,
    Pearl

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  8. Hi there Pearl!

    Sorry about the late reply! I'm in the last few weeks of High School and it's exam season for us, so it's all a bit hectic!

    I have to admit that I've never thought to question the origins of Worcestershire sauce, probably beacuse I don't actually use it myself!
    I've just googled it, and it seems that the recipe was actually from India but was replicated over here for the first time in Worcestershire, which would explain the name!

    In answer to your question, no Nelson simply drove through my town, it was early hours of the morning, I believe, although people still got up to cheer him through! He did however stay at Worcester and Birmingham, two places I've been to many times over the years. I know there is definately a plaque in Birmingham (or "Brum", as we call it!)and an extremely awesome statue of him, the very first in Britain!

    On the subject of Wolfe, have you heard of the story of Nelson meeting Benjamin West who painted the 'Death of Wolfe', which Nelson greatly admired. He enquired as to why he had not painted any like that since, to which West replied, "Because, my lord, there are no more subjects," although he feared that Nelson would soon give him another opportunity. Nelson was delighted and declared, "Then I hope I shall die in the next battle!"
    One of my faveourite Nelson anecdotes, although it must be said I have many!
    If you do do a blog post on this subject, I would be more than happy to read it,as it's something that I think must be done, especially as Wolfe was apparently one of Nelson's heroes!

    Take Care,
    Rae-Rae

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  9. Hello, Rae-Rae!

    I'll pray all your testing goes well! I have quite a few friends who are in "the crunch" at this time.

    Huh, so Worcestershire sauce is actually....Indian...??? Never would have guessed! But then again, tea is not exactly native English either, ha, ha! So popularity does not necessitate local origin. I here that Brits are quite fond of Pakistani and Indian food in general.

    Okay, so the citizens of the commuinty couldn't even lure Lord Nelson out of his carriage to get a drink at a local tavern or something? I mean, tourism would have sky-rocketed, LOL! But I guess his riding through was better than nothing ;-)

    I love that story about Nelson and Benjamin West! To make the whole thing more darkly humorous, they said the the painting West finally did on Nelson was pathetic! So, we muse, did Nelson charge into the Battle of Trafalgar with the death-wish...to be rewarded by an over-the-hill painter who couldn't paint well anymore? No wonder they put up the big statue in Trafalgar Square for him, ha, ha!

    I believe I shall embark upon the Wolfe/Nelson post sometime in June. Then I would love your comment and to hear some more of your favorite Nelsonian anecdotes!

    God Bless,
    Pearl

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