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50 Years Ago: Second thoughts

"Yesterday's Enemy" is a recently-produced British film about the British army fighting the Japanese in Burma during the last war. A review in the Daily Herald (14.9.59) describes a sequence in it: —

“A British captain .   .   . has  captured an informer who, he believes, has vital knowledge of a forthcoming Japanese attack. He threatens the informer with death, but the informer thinks the captain is bluffing and refuses to talk. The captain picks two villagers at random and orders them to be shot. The informer still refuses to talk. The villagers are shot—and then the informer breaks down. The captain has his information.”

The captain follows up his murder of two innocent villagers by having the informer shot, as well.

Remembering the propaganda with which we were spoon-fed in the last war, about how we were fighting for decency and humanity against the brutality of the other side, you might think that nothing like this could ever have been done by anyone in the British army. But not a bit of it. Major-General A. J. H. Snelling, who was with the 14th Army in Burma said: "I believe incidents like this did happen during the grim retreat." General Sir Douglas Gracey said: "I heard of similar incidents . . . These awkward situations did arise." Major-General H. L. Davies said: "This film is absolutely real and authentic." A fourth high-ranking officer, General Sir Robert Mansergh, was due to speak the film's praises at its New York premiere.

Very honest of them, now, fourteen years after the war has ended. And no one alleges that war can be fought with clean hands. But why did the politicians and generals tell us throughout the war that all the brutality was on the other side?

(From “The Passing Show” by Alwyn Edgar, Socialist Standard, December 1959.)