Keep a Stiff Upper lip, or stay calm and carry
on. slogans that might describe the British civilian wartime spirit. Civilians, living
under a reign of German Bombs. But was it really so? And was the response to the Blitz
specifically British? The answer of both questions is: no. This is War Against Humanity; A sub-series
of World War Two in Realtime. I’m Spartacus Olsson. In our weekly episodes about World War Two
covering the London Blitz and the War Against Humanity episode about the use and effects
of strategic bombing, we have already mentioned that Churchill, as well as Hitler, Mussolini
and other contemporary leaders, democratic, fascist or otherwise were fascinated by the
idea of crushing the enemies morale by destroying civilian homes, shops and completely disrupt
life. That idea is largely based on the theory of
one man: Gustave Le Bon. In his Psychologie Des Foules’ – the Psychology of the Masses,
Le Bon theorised in 1895 that human societies, with all their rules, morals and values, crumbles
in times of terror. ‘Humans will descend a few steps on the staircase of civilisation’,
was his idea.This dark view of the human psyche proved to be hugely influential. They all
read it. Hitler, Mussolini, Stalin, Churchill and Roosevelt. But did morale crumble and did societies collapse?
One of Churchills most important advisers and close friends, scientist Frederick Lindemann
was a huge advocate of bombing Germany to smithereens to crush their morale. We will
definitely get back to this in a later episode, but what is interesting here is that he had
a survey done in Birmingham and Hull, two British cities affected by Strategic Bombing.
One of Lindemann Scientists asked adolescent children in those cities how the bombing affected
their morale. They almost unanimously replied that it did not break their spirits or the
support of their country. If anything, the bombing increased the sense of community.
People came to each others rescues and those affected were taken care of. Lindemann went
on and lied to Churchill that the bombing of ones home was perceived as ‘worse than
losing a loved one’, arguably causing a hundreds of thousands of unnecessary deaths,
but as I said that’s a story for another day. If it didn’t work in Britain- why did Brits
still believe in its use overseas? Well, not only did figures like Lindemann lie about
its effectiveness, British government propaganda also definitely framed the This spirit of
unity, of humanity, helping others in times of severe crisis was as something unique for
the British. The ‘Blitz Spirit’ united the British in the face of a fascist threat
from Germany. British society didn’t crumble under the explosions because the British culture
was superior to others. Class differences were overcome and Britain was united in its
sole martyrdom against nazism. Or was it? Well, no. Post-war research shows that the
same ‘Blitz Spirit’ was present in other countries where strategic bombing was used
in the hope to crush the peoples will to fight and support their nations war effort. In Germany
for examples, researchers found that people reacted to the bombing similar to the Brits
in Hull and Birmingham. It turns out you didn’t have to be British to be able to withstand
terror. Being human would do the trick. Gustave Le Bon, as well as the worlds leaders, hugely
underestimated peoples ability to be humane and selfless in times of terror. Wether it
was because they projected the view of themselves on others or because they honestly felt like
other cultures were inferior to theirs, they were completely wrong when it came to strategic
bombing. And that British Blitz Spirit? The people
who transcended class-differences? Who even proudly celebrated their defiance of German
bombs? That too is largely based on propaganda. As we’ve just spoken about how the British
people are showing enormous courage in the face of the Blitz. But does this mean that
all people are, as Churchill will one day put it, “proud to be under the fire of the
enemy”? Are Londoners really, as filmmaker Humphrey Jennings writes to his wife, “secretly
delighted with the privilege of holding up Hitler?.” We should be careful not to confuse the genuine
stoicism of civilians with propaganda images of a unified, enthusiastic, and plucky nation
facing up to the bombs with pride. In fact, a lot of evidence suggests that people are
turning inwards, rather than outwards, to cope with the bombs,. The Brits are turning
towards their family, local communities, and familiar patterns of life to get through the
Blitz. Rather than focus on the lofty ideal of beating the German menace, they focus on
getting back to a regular and routine way of life. This is evident in a host of diaries
and private letters. In one, a seamstress writes that “it is because we can still live a
normal life in times like these that makes the war worth winning, and our winning certain.
That is what morale is all about.” And while a high number of people are positively
coping, not all of Britain is keeping its trademark stiff-upper-lip. Things simply aren’t
as calm as the posters, newspapers, and films like to portray. There has been a brief lull
in crime in 1939 and early 1940, but they will soar throughout the war. By the wars
end, property damage offences will rise from 305,114 in 1940, to 478,394 in 1945. Male
juvenile delinquency will also increase dramatically by nearly 70%, casting doubt on the idea that
everyone is in it together. After suffering a night of intense bombing, the Daily Express
reports that the city of Coventry is keeping it “courage and sanity”. But Home Intelligence
inspectors disagree, writing in their report that “There were more open signs of hysteria,
terror, neurosis, observed in one evening than during the whole of the past two months
together in all areas. Women were seen to cry, to scream, to tremble all over, to faint
in the street, to attack a fireman, and so on. The overwhelmingly dominant feeling on
Friday was the feeling of utter helplessness … There were several signs of suppressed
panic as darkness approached.” And are the class divisions that so mark British
history really melting away? Not really…at least not as much as the government like to
claim. In fact, the evacuation program has served to reinforce some very Victorian stereotypes
of the urban poor. Many middle-class suburbanites avoid accepting working-class children into
their homes. Many that do are contemptuous of the headlice and unsanitary habits the
kids supposedly bring with them from the city. During the first wave of evacuations, letters
to the editor pages in newspapers are filled with displeasure at the program. One reader
in the Glasgow Herald complains of the “disobedient and verminous children polluting” country
homes. From the other side, stories often fly in working-class papers that the rich
are cheating rationing regulations and regularly dining at fancy restaurants while authorities
turn a blind eye. Ralph Ingersoll, an American journalist, visits Blitz London and is shocked
to see how in a shelter in the Docklands, 8000 people have to share six buckets while
upper-class residents sheltered at the Dorchester Hotel in the West End, enjoy Turkish baths
and feather beds. So there we are. The Blitz Spirit is overblown,
the affectivity of strategic bombing is a hoax and human nature is better than world
leaders anticipated. Yet the British nature is not as good as British propaganda made
it seem. And while this might seem like some harmless nationalist propaganda to boost morale,
it had a huge impact on the remainder of the war and the lives of hundreds and thousands
of people. Imagine this. You have a bomber fleet of hundreds
or thousands of bombers. You have two options. Either you use them to bomb factories, enemy
strongpoints, armies, tanks, material, supply lines, airfields and fuel depots. Or you use
them to, again and again, night after night, bomb the civilians of the country you are
fighting against in the hope to break their spirits. To get them to transcend into barbarity
and rise up against their governments. The first one has a visible effect on your armies
progress in beating your enemy. The second one is based on falsehoods and presumptions
of your own superiority. What would you do? If you want to see our World War Two weekly
episode about the beginning of the London Blitz, you can click right here. Any moment
now. Our Patreon Supporter of the week is Justinas Jorodas. We wouldn’t be making any
episodes without our friends like Justinas. So do your part and sign up to the TimeGhost
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