Monday, January 02, 2006

There Goes The Neighbourhood

Interesting little story.

Really the Anglo-American situation with regard to race in WW2 is rather strange. There's no doubt that even as early as the Great War the British, whose attitudes on race couldn't exactly be regarded as enlightened by the standards of today, found the American willingness to segregate American citizens peculiar and morally dubious*. The Americans, for their part, largely found Britain's colonial ways distasteful and repressive. So we have this rather whimsical situation in which the Brits, who controlled large armies of colonial subjects in which the overwhelming majority of officers were white (a minority of officers in some parts of the Imperial forces [especially the support arms] were native, but they generally had to claw their way up through the other ranks to a lare commission and couldn't expect to rise above company command) and in which the bulk of the troops were from parts of the world where self-determination was something that happened to other people, thought it was pretty grotty that black Americans didn't get a decent bite of the cheese and the Americans, who found the entire structure of British colonialism utterly offensive (and ripe for demolition) and who prided themselves on being beacons of liberty and overall creamy goodness were quite prepared not only to force their black soldiers to serve seperately but also frequently to treat them as distinctly second class. There's enough hypocrisy and general lack of self-awareness on both sides to fill a bucket.

Kevin Pollack

On a related note, with regard to the many and varied allied contingents of varying sizes based in the United Kingdom during the bulk of World War 2, there's a fairly hefty amount of Security Service documentation** reporting on very bad relations between the British and the Poles. The Poles were viewed by the police, the army, the security service and, apparently, a substantial chunk of the population of London, as being in the large part a bunch of violent racists and anti-semites (I believe more than one report wonders rhetorically whether there was much difference between the Poles and the Nazis in these respects). Not only was their antisemitism apparently overt and noisy but there were police reports of Polish troops roughing up Jews in the East End. Additionally there were regularly fights between Poles on the one hand and Imperial troops on the other and the security services reported Indian Army officers complaing of widespread incidents of Polish soldiers verbally abusing their men and in some cases refusing to serve alongside black or Indian forces.

*Characteristically "Black Jack" Pershing, whose strong stance in "standing up" to requests to have American forces dispersed among Allied fighting formations has earned him a lot of praise and something of an iconic position, lost no sleep whatsoever in signing over the substantial bulk of the AEF's black contingent to the French wholesale and barely looking back.

**I believe Richard Aldrich is The Man when it comes to this topic.


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