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Munitions of the Mind Posts

Antiquities in Palestine as Post War Propaganda

Written by Chloe Emmott

Palestine was viewed by most in Britain, and the wider western world, as ‘the Holy Land’, the cradle of Christianity. After Allenby’s victory in 1918 and the creation of the Mandate (1923-1948), the British promoted themselves as worthy protectors of this important heritage for the world, with the press perpetuating propaganda of the British liberating and developing Palestine after ‘it had been ruined by generations of Turkish rule’. (The Scotsman, 31 August 1921).

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Frank Herbert’s ‘Dune’ and Orientalism

Written by Haifa Mahabir

I hesitated on writing this piece, a critique of Frank Herbert’s seminal contribution to the literatures of speculative fiction. It feels a bit beneath the urgency of the topics we ordinarily lend our time to in lensing the Middle East and Northern Africa—the whole heart-breaking aftermath of foreign imperial ambitions. Our dispossession, and our grief. Our resistance.  A Saidian orientalist  critique of Dune is far too easy. Frank Herbert’s masterpiece of course, regarded as a foundational text of the Science Fiction genre, is inarguably rife with orientalist motifs and imagery.

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Decolonising the Palestine Exploration Fund

Written by Felicity Cobbing, Yasmeen Elkhoudary and Avantika Clark

As historians, we utilise various resources to conduct our research – none as important as the archives we dig around in for those all important “primary sources”. But archives are not neutral spaces. We asked the Palestine Exploration Fund to share with us the way in which they are approaching the idea of decolonisation and what it means for an institution with a colonial history.

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War, Media and the ‘Middle East’

Written by Anne Caldwell

From the very beginning, this special issue was intended to question our academic and media narratives of the “Middle East” (or Southwest Asia) – the Levant and Palestine in particular. From the archives we utilise to the culture we analyse and the news media we consume, our understanding of South-West Asia and North Africa (SWANA) is not without its biases. This has never been clearer than in the current cultural clash over decolonisation, amplified in this moment by the crisis unfolding in Ukraine.

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Tank: War Machine of the Battlefield, War Machine of the Mind

Written by Mark Connelly

As a teenager in the 1980s I was a great fan of Spitting Image. Every Monday morning in school there would be frenzied exchanges of the best lines and sketches. A firm favourite, which has entered the lexicon of my brother and I, was a May Day parade in Red Square. The puppets of the Soviet leadership were becoming mightily bored by the unending display of military might. Suddenly, one piped up with a game declaring, ‘I spy with my little eye something beginning with T’ in the great cod-Russian accents which we all knew so well from Cold War spy dramas. A Politburo member got the answer: ‘Tank’ (pronounced, of course, ‘Tenk’). Having won the round, it was his turn, ‘I spy with my little eye something beginning with A’. The answer was ‘another tank,’ next it was something beginning with ‘Y’, to which, of course, the response was ‘yet another tank’.

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Misinformation, Mass Observation and the Public Perception of the Norway Campaign, 1940

Written by Charles Taylor

If you ask the modern-day Briton about the Norway campaign of 1940, you will likely be met with a blank face or a simple shrug. Eclipsed by the evacuation of Dunkirk and the fall of France, Britain’s involvement in this theatre has undoubtedly drifted into the background of British memory of the Second World War. Though little known, the campaign holds many significances for the armed forces. Erupting on 9 April 1940 with Germany’s Operation Weserübung, Norway was the first land campaign of the Second World War for Britain, the earliest meeting of British and German troops on the battlefield, the first joint Allied land operation, and the first modern sea, land and air campaign. Despite these considerations, Britain’s military involvement remains all but forgotten, condemned as a humiliating background episode and often glazed over in the history books.

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Culture in the Third Reich

Reviewed by Kate Docking

‘Culture’ is not something that instantly springs to mind when one thinks of the National Socialist regime. Indeed, images of relentless barbarism dominate our perceptions, and rightly so, for extreme cruelty was perpetuated during the Third Reich. However, the violence committed by the Nazis does not mean that there was a total dearth of culture. In fact, as Moritz Föllmer adeptly shows in his significant book, Culture in the Third Reich, ‘culture’ – which Föllmer defines in broad terms, encompassing not only ‘high culture’ such as opera but also ‘popular’ leisure pursuits including film, radio and light fiction – actually abounded under Nazism. Building on the work of historians such as George Mosse and Fritz Stern, Föllmer has produced the most insightful and comprehensive history of National Socialist culture to date. The broader scholarly importance of the book lies in Föllmer’s powerful argument that the ‘cultural attractiveness’ (p. 25) of Nazism significantly enabled the movement’s success.

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‘Today we have the Naming of Parts’: Words, Language and Military History

Written by Mark Connelly

In August 1942 the New Statesman and Nation published Henry Reed’s poem, ‘Naming of Parts,’ which has become one his most famous works. Its focus is a sergeant instructing the men in the handling of their rifle. The instructor luxuriates in the technical language of the weapon. We are told of the lower sling swivel, the piling swivel, the safety catch (and how quickly it can be released with a simple flick of the thumb), the bolt, the breach, the cocking-piece, the point of balance. The rifle is a welter of technical terms and understanding those technical terms means mastering a mystery, it means initiation into a distinct community; it means power.

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Ironic and Iconic: My relationship with Paul Fussell’s The Great War and Modern Memory

Written by Mark Connelly

Every now and then a book comes along that meets truly the hyperbole of blurbs and testimonials found in reviews and adorning dustjacket covers. For me, one of those texts is Paul Fussell’s The Great War and Modern Memory. First published by Oxford University Press in 1975, it has achieved something rare for an academic text: global fame and global notoriety. His argument that the Great War ushered in irony as the dominant mode of modern discourse was ever-present set people talking, thinking and writing, some furiously, others ecstatically. My first engagement with it was as a teenager and through the lenses of others. The first was provided by an English teacher at school who, on finding out about my interest in the First World War, urged me to read it. With the persistence of a Great War general hammering away at a strongpoint regardless of cost, he kept returning to the recommendation. I noted his enthusiasm and realised there was something special about this work, but I had a pile of other war books to get through including Wyn Griffiths’s Up to Mametz and the diaries of Edwin Campion Vaughan published under the title Some Desperate Glory. My next encounter with it came at Christmas when my parents indulged me with another pile of First World War books as presents. Among them were two other seminal texts (if you’re unlucky, I’ll write about those in another blog!), John Terraine’s The Smoke and the Fire and The White Heat. Reading The Smoke and the Fire was epiphanic (that’s a great word, isn’t it?). I went from being a full-blown Joan Littlewoodite to a full-blown revisionist in one move. And of course, a significant casualty was my open-mindedness about Fussell. This Fussell chap now looked distinctly suspect and out of his depth. As Bertie Wooster might have said, ‘Fussell can eat cake as far as I am concerned’, and that was him struck from my reading list.

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‘Jungles To-day are Gold Mines Tomorrow’: Depictions of Africa and Africans in Empire Marketing Board Posters, 1926–1933

Written by Mark Connelly

In 1926 the British government launched a new initiative to stimulate the economy of the empire and encourage a sense of solidarity in the Britannic world. Although short-lived (it was wound-up in 1933), the Empire Marketing Board was a remarkable instrument of propaganda and persuasion. Designed to shape public opinion, the EMB drew upon the lessons the First World War had taught on the art of mass communication. Chief among the EMB’s tools was the poster. Commissioning leading commercial artists, the EMB produced a truly remarkable range of posters. Visually arresting, some boldly modernist, others more traditional, all were eye-catching and demanded attention. Among the output were many referring to Africa and Africans. Studying those posters, their visual and written messages, reveals much about British perceptions of Africa and race. As posters designed primarily for display in Britain, they reflected ‘a white gaze’ and white views of the world. As instruments of those in power, the posters reflected the official view that the Empire was a family, but like all families, it had seniors and juniors, and thus emphasised rank and hierarchy. Within this worldview, Africans were part of the family, but their position was one of dependence upon the white rulers. The visual tropes then implied a happy relationship of trust, confidence and assurance between the two. Economic prosperity, and with it happiness, for all was guaranteed by this relationship, or so the EMB proclaimed. Of course, the realities on the ground were a long way from such cosy visions.

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