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War and British identity: A study of Mass Observers' perceptions of the use of British military force since 1982

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This thesis uses Mass Observation Project data as a source of evidence for individual British people’s interpretations of British involvement in recent overseas military conflicts. Considering five of Britain’s post-imperial and post-Cold War conflicts in the Falklands, Gulf, Kosovo, Afghanistan and Iraq wars, it approaches these cases as objects of historical memory and considers how individuals connect these conflicts to narratives of British identity. Using an interpretative and qualitative method of analysis, it finds that, though contemporary circumstance and context are crucial in determining what is written about each case, these conflicts are given meaning through invocation of Britain’s military past, primarily British experience in the Second World War. Observers’ written responses across the period reveal a pervasive belief in Britain as an historical force for good, the crucible of which is British opposition to the evil of Nazi fascism and dictatorship in World War Two, and its entry into that war to defend both itself and other European nations. These connections began to fragment within the context of the ‘War on Terror’ and the occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq.
Popular memories of the past have been critical in framing and clarifying what observers wrote about more recent conflicts, both among those who supported the use of force and those who did not, but have also been sustained as Britain continues to deploy military force in the present. Certain aspects of British experience in World War Two have been kept alive as they retain an explanatory power over contemporary circumstances while others are omitted as they are not thought to be relevant; observers’ written accounts show, in detail, how popular memories of the past have been affected by the changing context in which they are invoked and how military force is related intimately to narrative (re)constructions of national identity.

Publication Date Dec 1, 2018


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