The Battleground podcast on the wars of the 20th century, said presenter Saul David happily, ‘will have lots of bombs and bullets but we’re also interested in other aspects of conflict: social, political and cultural’. He’s a military historian. His co-presenter, Patrick Bishop, went on: ‘Alongside the personalities, the battles and the technology – and there will be plenty of that, we promise – expect to hear some thought-provoking stuff that puts conflict into its wider context.’ He is a veteran foreign correspondent who has written lots of war books; I first met him in Kosovo.
The opening series is on the Falklands War, partly because we’ve just had the 40th anniversary, and partly because Patrick Bishop, back then a youngish reporter on the Observer, persuaded his boss to send him off to join the task force on the Canberra, a converted cruise ship, where he and other hacks had the closest possible view of events, plus the benefit of decent chefs.
For a fair analysis of war you need distance to get things in perspective and for the truth about controversial aspects to emerge. You need some of the main players alive and anxious to tell their stories. This series has all that, at least from the British side, plus two presenters who know their stuff and aren’t afraid to show enthusiasm for the soldierly side of things. You want an insight into the differences between the SBS and the SAS, or the Marines and the Paras? Here you get it (the SBS brags less; the Marines play by the rules). The throbbing music adds to the drama.
There are some classy contributors. The first episode has Richard Luce, then the Foreign Office minister responsible for the Falklands, who reflected ruefully that at the outset ‘neither side understood each other’. But when the invasion happened, ‘I immediately decided that as a matter of honour I should go and hand in my resignation’, only for Lord Carrington to respond that if anyone was going to resign he would. In the event, they both resigned when an editorial in the Times suggested they were traitors. That dates these accounts; we’re talking about a political class whose response to allegations of wrong judgment or bad faith was resignation.
Luce reflects ruefully that ‘in hindsight…the obvious thing to have done was [to] have sent two submarines much, much earlier…and allowed that to sink in with the Argentine leadership’.
The military commentators were excellent too, notably Rear Admiral Jeremy Larken, whose lorry carrier, Fearless, ferried troops, and Shiner, a modest but brave Marine. Simon Jenkins was in his element on the politics: ‘We’re seeing everything in retrospect… you can’t imagine what it was like in the beginning… [Mrs T.] was in a state of shock.’
It would have been good to hear the Argentine view, but this is a fair, unjingoistic account. The contributors were male, most with plummy voices, because these were the people who knew the story and could tell it well. Imagine how the BBC would have done it.
Indeed over at the Beeb, a woman called Nell Frizzell was agonising in Mother, Nature, Sons about whether to have a second child, given the climate crisis. (‘Basically, do I shut my legs to save the planet?’) There have been quite a few programmes on the BBC about this very question, viz, whether for the sake of the environment we should simply give up on reproduction.
She talks to her neighbour Rowan, who is against procreation. ‘I think we need to depopulate,’ she says. This was very much the view of Vermont-based Les Knight, founder of Voluntary Human Extinction Movement, or Vehement. ‘I realised,’ said Les, ‘we should stop populating until we became extinct [and] the best way to do it was to get a vasectomy. So I got that at 25… and I am so glad to have had it done. So many people walking around with a loaded gun… it could go off and start a life!’ It all brought to mind Vulgaria in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang – the statelet where children are banned and the grown-ups behave like children.
Matt Winning then featured, a new father who is for bringing love and positivity into the world. Finally, Nell spoke to the reproductive epidemiologist Shanna Swan of NYC, who opined that by 2045 sperm would become extinct, what with all the hormone-altering plastics we’re ingesting.
At the end, Nell decides to come off contraception, leaving us to ponder whether the potential sibling for her son would have an actual father. I longed to introduce to Nell one further character. My cousin’s son is married to a lovely Ugandan girl who is the eldest of her Muslim father’s 33 children. This patriarch could, I felt, usefully have put Nell’s dilemma into perspective.