Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Born On The 27th Of June

Part 1!

Since last month, Brown has evidently been setting up a full-on West Wing series finale, and clarified what he meant by commemoration in an address on Monday to the Royal United Services Institute. The speech, archived by the Treasury, was heavily leaked during the weekend to security-conscious newspapers such as the Daily Mail to ensure a newsstand packed with his tabloid-friendliest ideas on Monday morning.

Brown's RUSI speech emphasised security (you don't get to be Chancellor of the Exchequer without learning how to pitch to your audience), and, in particular, how globalisation will enable new terrorist threats. His range of policies, such as ID cards, biometric passports, and higher police budgets (such as three high-spec paramilitary helicopters for London's Metropolitan Police) were all implicitly legitimised by - constant references to the 7 July 2005 bombing attacks on London's transport system, and the demand to keep its memory alive.

For the benefit of his military-expert listeners, Brown outlined further proposals for his vision of Britishness: not only nebulous talk of values' (what they?), but also several ideas to promote War Memory such as encouraging teenagers to conduct oral history projects with war veterans in their neighbourhoods, expanding the Combined Cadet Force into state schools (so: that'll be even more teen-oriented recruitment ads showing off the army as a cross between Faliraki and a youth training scheme), and holding an annual Veterans' Day, again on the US model.

Like so many US-to-UK imports (Lock/Stock/Two Smoking Barrels? Madonna's new career? Match Point?), the British version of American military patriotism doesn't quite have the same ring to it. And is an expanded Veterans' Day, generalising the focus away from the world wars, at all intended to legitimise more recent activities? Perish the thought.

The Royal British Legion of veterans, among others, has called for a UK veterans' day before, and has suggested the Monday after Remembrance Sunday as a suitable date for the event. However, Veterans' Day will take place in much more promising weather during June, almost certainly on the 27th.

Arcanely, 27 June was apparently chosen as 'the day after the anniversary of the first investiture of the Victoria Cross in Hyde Park in 1857'. Even more arcanely to most, but not to the Gazette, the date also happens to be when I was born. (But not in 1857, please. Thank you.)

The great Croatian anthropologist Dunja Rihtman-Auguštin wrote some of her most stimulating essays on how the state can politicise time: abolishing public holidays, giving them new meanings, or making them up from scratch. In a very, very small way, the Gazette now knows what she meant. Unless we get an extra bank holiday out of it, of course. And Meera Syal and Kevin Pietersen, among others, are probably feeling the same way.

There's still a long distance to go before ex-Army balladeer James Blunt starts to perform Bon-Jovi-ised arrangements of English folk music with new lyrics getting his boys in Basra off the hook (although even as it is, he can still arouse some startling passions), and certainly no talk of an Altar of the Homeland yet. But at least I have some topical material to start my next lecture on politicising history with.


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