The bigger the bomb, the bigger the bully

Orwell was as right about arms technology as he was about everything else. Plus, sex sells, and live TV's condition is 'serious but stable'

Share
Related Topics

In the same week that the Culture Secretary, Maria Miller, unveiled the Government's plans for commemorating next August's centenary of the outbreak of the First World War, the former defence secretary, Michael Portillo, took to the airwaves with a series about the year 1913. Mr Portillo's theme, it turns out, is continuity, and the conflict's role not as a stimulus to social and political change but as a kind of ghastly brake applied to developments that were already in train and would resume with even greater speed once hostilities were over.

Naturally this theory was applied to the arena of military technology. Here, as Mr Portillo pointed out, the end of the cavalry charge and the rise of the tank and the bombing plane could be glimpsed across the horizon long before the archducal assassination at Sarajevo. All this reminded me of an immensely prophetic but comparatively little-known essay that George Orwell produced for Tribune a couple of months after the close of the Second World War, entitled "You and the Atom Bomb", in which he examines the connection between international power politics and military hardware.

According to Orwell, a single general rule applies: "Ages in which the dominant weapon is expensive or difficult to make will tend to be ages of despotism, whereas when the dominant weapon is cheap or simple, the common people have a chance." By this reasoning, tanks and battleships are inherently weapons of tyranny. On the other hand, the musket – the symbolic accessory of the American War of Independence – was democratic.

Here, in 1945, the effect of the invention of the nuclear bomb was to concentrate power in a tiny number of hands and (this is where Orwell was being prophetic) preserve a status quo in which two or three super-states would maintain their supremacy by way of a tacit agreement never to use the bombs against each other.

How does this theory shape up in 2013, when military technology has advanced to the point where a single Afghan tribesman can blow a helicopter out of the sky with a hand-held rocket-launcher or a suicide bomber destroy a roomful of people with a rucksack full of Semtex? The answer would seem to be that, once again, the technology is thoroughly undemocratic, there not to succour the rebel army and the common cause but to help the solitary barbarian and the majority-hating fanatic.

...

The BBC Woman's Hour presenter Jenni Murray could be found in last week's Radio Times complaining about the "sexualisation" of female classical musicians. "The women who seem to be most welcome are the ones who are prepared to go along with the old idea that sex sells," she lamented. "Look at the way the violinist Nicola Benedetti and the trumpeter Alison Balsom are marketed." Ms Benedetti declined to comment, but has previously noted that "I don't think dressing provocatively should be part of what I do".

Welcome as all this is, it is a pity Ms Murray didn't go further and address the sexualisation of culture per se. This is noticeable even in the staid old world of light literature. I remember getting into terrible trouble some years ago for suggesting that Zadie Smith's career had only been helped by someone's decision to reinvent her as one of the Pointer Sisters. A sexist jibe no doubt, but it is

a fact that Ms Smith's early publicity photos showed a rather homely looking girl wearing a kind of cotton-square bonnet. This is not a complaint about Zadie Smith, whose talent would enable her to prosper if she looked like a dustbin, merely to note that she is a victim of a wider cultural process, and that if there is space for only one picture in the Saturday books supplement Ms Smith invariably gets the nod.

There is nothing that anyone can do about this, for beyond a limited circle of genuine aficionados, most cultural engagements are entered into for non-cultural reasons. As that highly effective book-publiciser the late Anthony Blond once remarked, the fact that an author lost a leg at Anzio is frequently much more important than the quality of the book he writes. The same is true of musicians with short skirts and come-hither expressions.

...

It was a particularly bad few days for the concept of live TV. As several commentators noted, BBC coverage of Usain Bolt's first major appearance of the season was a terrific let-down: not only did he lose the race, but the eventual winner, Justin Gatlin, declined to face the cameras. Worse was to come, however, in the live reports from the London hospital in which the Duke of Edinburgh is recovering from abdominal surgery and the Pretoria hospital in which Nelson Mandela is being treated for a lung infection.

Had there been a bulletin on the Duke's health, someone enquired of the poor girl camped out on the pavement? No, there hadn't. Had anyone visited him? Ditto.

Meanwhile in Pretoria, our correspondent was reduced to reading out a get-well-soon message that had just arrived from the ANC. What is the point of these communications? It is almost as bad as the vox pop interviews conducted in the wake of some Government proposal or other, in which, for the sake of balance, the first person has to agree, the second dissent, and the third sit on the fence.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £30,000+

£16000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are looking for individual...

Recruitment Genius: IT Project Coordinator / Manager

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Project Coordinator is requir...

Recruitment Genius: Mortgage Advisor - OTE £95,000

£40000 - £95000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Trainee Vehicle Inspectors / Purchasers

£20000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Trainee Vehicle Inspectors / Pu...

Day In a Page

Read Next
The possibility of Corbyn winning has excited some Conservatives  

Labour leadership: The choice at the heart of the leadership campaign

Jeremy Corbyn
Pablo Iglesias, the leader of Spain’s anti-austerity party Podemos  

Greece debt crisis: Trouble is, if you help the Greeks, everyone will want the same favours

Charlotte McDonald-Gibson Charlotte McDonald-Gibson
Greece debt crisis: EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

An outbreak of malaria in Greece four years ago helps us understand the crisis, says Robert Fisk
Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge: The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas

Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge

The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas
How to survive electrical storms: What are the chances of being hit by lightning?

Heavy weather

What are the chances of being hit by lightning?
World Bodypainting Festival 2015: Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'

World Bodypainting Festival 2015

Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'
alt-j: A private jet, a Mercury Prize and Latitude headliners

Don't call us nerds

Craig Mclean meets alt-j - the math-folk act who are flying high
How to find gold: The Californian badlands, digging out crevasses and sifting sludge

How to find gold

Steve Boggan finds himself in the Californian badlands, digging out crevasses and sifting sludge
Singing accents: From Herman's Hermits and David Bowie to Alesha Dixon

Not born in the USA

Lay off Alesha Dixon: songs sound better in US accents, even our national anthem
10 best balsamic vinegars

10 best balsamic vinegars

Drizzle it over salad, enjoy it with ciabatta, marinate vegetables, or use it to add depth to a sauce - this versatile staple is a cook's best friend
Wimbledon 2015: Brief glimpses of the old Venus but Williams sisters' epic wars belong to history

Brief glimpses of the old Venus but Williams sisters' epic wars belong to history

Serena dispatched her elder sister 6-4, 6-3 in eight minutes more than an hour
Greece says 'No': A night of huge celebrations in Athens as voters decisively back Tsipras and his anti-austerity stance in historic referendum

Greece referendum

Greeks say 'No' to austerity and plunge Europe into crisis
Ten years after the 7/7 terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?

7/7 bombings anniversary

Ten years after the terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?
Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has created

Versace haute couture review

Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has ever created
No hope and no jobs, so Gaza's young risk their lives, climb the fence and run for it

No hope and no jobs in Gaza

So the young risk their lives and run for it
Fashion apps: Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers

Fashion apps

Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers
The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy