War has always been close to the centre of British culture, but never more so than in the period since 1850. Warrior Nation explores the way in which images of battle, both literary and visual, have been constructed in British fiction and popular culture since this time. The rise of war reporting has helped to shape a society fascinated by conflict, and the development of mass communications has aided in the creation of mass-produced martial heroes and the relation of epic adventures for political ends. To achieve national goals, the notion of war has been promoted as an activity of high adventure and chivalrous enterprise and as a rite of passage to manhood. Using a wide range of media, Michael Paris focuses on how war has been "sold" to boys and young men and examines the "warrior" as a masculine ideal.
Ever wondered why Britain has fought and won so many wars? Paris's books is a fascinating treatise that goes a long way to answering this question: the abundance of exciting, often romantic, war and adventure stories, whether written, illustrated or on celluloid, contribute strongly. Warrior Nation begins with the Crimean War in the 1850s, when troops and the Royal Navy were sent to help the underdog against an evil oppressor. The public supported the 'winning formula' of the moral cause, one repeated with 'plucky Belgium' in 1914, against Hitler in 1939, North Korea's invasion of South Korea, the Falklands, Kuwait and Kosovo. From the Crimea, Paris moves on to cover the expansion of the Empire and the Indian Mutinies. Through the creation of the 'Boy's Own Paper' (1879) and Baden Powell's Boy Scout movement, Paris explores the romantic, chivalric vision of the 'Warrior Nation'. Defeats are always temporary setbacks (Charge of the Light Brigade, General Gordon at Khartoum, the German Spring Offensive of 1918, Dunkirk 1940); eventual victory is assured. The defence of the Empire was consistently portrayed as the chivalric duty of the 'responsible Christian gentleman' in the press and in public schools. The support of the Empire was augmented by model manufacturers as well as an ever increasing supply of ersatz boy's own papers.Small wonder that the masses volunteered to fight in 1914. During World War I stories and news reports from the Front barely mentioned the losses, preferring to sanitize reports, balancing them with references to German losses. In 1914 the fictional story of the Bowmen of Agincourt helping British soldiers was published in the Daily Mail, and still holds a place in folklore; apparent proof God was on the side of the British. Cigarette cards featuring regiments were collected and swapped. As the casualty figures rose, a new breed of hero was offered with the aerial jousting pilots such as Biggles (still going strong in World War II) and the daring exploits of Lawrence of Arabia, closely followed by an avid audience. After 1919 weekly papers such as 'Chums' featured distant conflicts such as India or specifically the Frontier. Foreign invasion was imminent, spies (usually Soviet) were everywhere, and both were always thwarted at the last moment. Historic conflicts such as the Crusades and the English Civil War were serialized, the emphasis being on the just cause of the brave, chilvalric individual. By 1939 a more educated public was told that German aggression had to be resisted. After Dunkirk much was made of Great Britain standing alone. Again the exploits of the pilots were focused upon, and the home front doing its bit; even women had a role to play. Comics showed Lord Snooty and the Gas Street Gang sending Hitler and his cronies packing; somehow trivializing the threat and making the reader laugh diminished the fear. Stories of children thwarting invasions or spies captured the imagination of youngsters, whether in films or radio, or in the ubiquitous weekly publications. After World War II, the emphasis became retrospective. Films such as 'The Battle of Britain' and 'The Dambusters' were well-received; Britain had lost her Empire and her trading prowess, and a great deal had been sacrificed. And with atomic weapons a reality, a future war was too awful to contemplate. In short, the emphasis was placed on the battlefields and not on Belsen. Between 1960-1980 there was a burgeoning market for comics: 'Victor', 'Warlord', 'Battle Picture Weekly', 'Commando' (1961 and still running), despite the war in Vietnam. The negative portrayal of 'Johnny Foreigner' in films, novels and boys' comics contributed to an instinctive desire to defend the Union Jack in the Falklands and tragically at the Heysall Stadium; who could forget the newspaper headline 'Gotcha!' or the coverage of Euro '96? Paris has created a compelling insight into why this country responded to the call to arms. This is Paris's sixth book and arguably his most accomplished - it is well-researched and balanced. (Kirkus UK)