One of the compensations of edging towards forty is the thought that, even should World War Three break out, at that age you are unlikely to be subject to military conscription. Now, I know that (a) World War Three does not look very likely anyway at the moment and (b) should it ever materialise, it is unlikely to follow the pattern of the first two. Large conscript armies will not be required; it’ll just be a case of exchanging nuclear/chemical/biological weapons until someone gives up or everyone’s dead. However, as a man who has always had a list of excuses for not being subject to military service prepared, should the need arise, I feel I deserve a little indulgence here.
Had the occasion ever arisen, I would probably have run my epilepsy as a first line of defence, followed by my short-sight (although this doesn’t seem automatically exclude you in the way it once did. Still, might be worth trying – Frank Sinatra got out of participating in World War Two through a punctured ear drum). If that failed, all that would be left would be a plea of being overweight, which is pretty desperate. As anyone who’s ever seen Hollywood action films knows, they have ways of making you fit at “Boot Camp” ( “Are you a scumbag, boy!””Sir! Yes,sir!”).
If I still had to join up, I’d have relied on my general physical ineptitude and lack of motor skills to make the Army conclude that they’d never make a combat soldier out of me. Given past performance in PE lessons at school and in attempting to learn to drive I really don’t think I’d have to try that hard. I wouldn’t want me manning a machine gun in the general area of people on my own side. If they weren’t prepared to kick me out I might at least get posted to the Catering Corps – not that I can cook either. Americans actually faced with being drafted to Vietnam and not willing to leave the country frequently claimed mental instability, drug problems or pacifist beliefs, but none of those are true of me, and I wouldn’t want to actually lie.
Ignobly wriggling out of one’s patriotic duty of military service naturally leads on to the question of what one might do if World War Three went bad and the UK were occupied by a foreign power (again, you have to ignore the fair chance that by the end of a real World War, there wouldn’t be much of the country worth occupying). So, which invading foreign powers do you collaborate with? I’m willing to lay out my stand now – it would depend on exactly how unpleasant life generally would be under said foreign occupier. How repressive or otherwise would they be? Are they likely to execute/torture lots of people? Would that “lots” include me or people I know/like? Would they completely wreck the place or let things go on much as normal?
Based on these principles, I’ve divided Britain’s likely future, and indeed past, conquerors into those not to be touched with a bargepole, those where I’m not quite sure either way and those to be collaborated with enthusiastically:-
1. No way, Jose
(a) The Nazis – you only have to look at how they treated practically every other European country they occupied.
(b) The Soviet Union, pre- Stalin’s death – likewise.
(c) China – Don’t have as extensive a record of foreign conquest as the other two, but these days they mostly seem to have abandoned any pretence at communism for unbridled capitalism under the direction of corrupt and authoritarian
mandarins Communist party officials headed by the Emperor President. Like executing people. It’s not a great model for export, is it?
2. Yeah but no but
(a) The Soviet Union, post-Stalin’s death – Less likely to purge everyone in sight, but as they showed in Hungary and Czechoslovakia, unlikely to take any nonsense about countries finding their own path to socialism. Could, and would, turn colourful metropolises into drab concrete conurbations whilst palming their populations off with some of the worst consumer goods ever produced in pursuit of an obsession with made-up statistics on pig iron production. On the positive side, it’s unlikely they would have to think too long about what to do with investment bankers and the thought of Simon Cowell, a broken man, reduced to fronting documentaries about new combine harvesters, has its appeal.
(b) Imperial Germany – Run by arrogant and mustachioed upper class dicks in funny hats, but at the time so was this country. They’d probably shoot you if they thought you opposed them, but not otherwise, and wouldn’t run systematic purges. Actually rather good at running an economy. Not as liberal/democratic as Britain, but it’s a matter of degree rather than the blatant thuggishness of their Nazi successors.
3. Green light
(a) Sixteenth/Seventeenth century Spain – Basically, you’d probably be alright as long as you were prepared to convert to Catholicism, which a lot of ordinary people at the time would probably not have minded that much. After all, Henry VIII forcibly converted them away from it. Puritans, the monarch and their courtiers (unless they defected in time) would have been in trouble, but that’s a small minority. Centuries of propaganda has made characters like Philip II into James Bond villains, but they were probably no worse or more autocratic than most other monarchs of the day.
(b) Eighteenth/nineteenth century France – Much the same, except they wouldn’t have pushed Catholicism as hard (or at all, after the Revolution). Even when dealing with a dictator like Napoleon, the average Englishman might have recalled that if no-one in France had a meaningful vote in elections, he just didn’t have one full stop, and Napoleon’s “crimes” look pretty feeble compared to those of Hitler, Stalin or Mao. Of course, during the revolutionary period there was an active minority of people who would have been quite keen on the idea of a French invasion.
(c) Aliens – Alien invasion has been a favourite plot of films for fifty years, but if you think of the kind of technology needed to travel from even the nearest star in a reasonable time, they’d have to be such advanced beings that it’s difficult to see why they would particularly want to conquer the Earth for selfish reasons. We would have very little to offer them, even as slaves, prey or target practice. Frankly, like Kent Brockman from the Simpsons, I’m all in favour of those kind of aliens taking over.