Thursday, 2 July 2015

"The past is a foreign country..."

Recently, I suggested that, although Poul Anderson's character, Manson Everard, had lived through World War II, when he time traveled back to London 1944, this was to experience that period in a completely different way, no longer as part of it.

Is the past a "foreign country..."?

SM Stirling's character, Roy Tully, says:

"'Put it down to my love of old movies. You soak up enough stuff from the 1930s, 1940s, you realize that that was a different country...look at the people in 'em, and the background stuff nobody thought about because it was like water to fish, ways of doing things and looking at things and such everyone accepted as natural. They thought different, they acted different, hell, they even moved different. You can see it in the way they held a cigarette or got into a car.'"
-SM Stirling, Conquistador (New York, 2004), p. 197.

Is he exaggerating? That was us less than a century ago. But social attitudes to homosexuality and smoking have gone into reverse in my lifetime. And, in Britain, the public response to the Queen's Golden and Diamond Jubilees was not what it had been for her Silver Jubilee.

Tully explains further:

"'...remember all the crap we went through in the war, keeping civilian casualties down? Even when it meant taking losses ourselves? the war John Rolfe fought they burned whole enemy cities to cinders and never thought twice about it; carpet-bombed targets in France, too, and if French civilians got caught in the middle - hard cheese, there's a war on. And they stuck the honorable Yasujiru's folks behind wire without a moment's hesitation.'" (pp. 197-198)

I could quote more but there is a limit to how much of a post should be inside quotation marks as against my own reflections on the quoted passages. I urge blog readers to read or reread this passage in Stirling's novel. It is good.

Do the modern military strive to avoid civilian casualties even at the expense of taking losses themselves? Or was it likely in 2003 that they would be doing so before 2009? Stirling is right to project changed attitudes and policies into an imagined future, even a very near future.

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