Monday, October 12, 2009

Zulu's Revenge

I finally got around to watching Zulu (1964) this weekend thanks to a timely airing on TCM as I lay dying. It was more effective than it should have been considering how archaic the depiction of battle ("realism" has come a long way in 45 years), and how imperial was the ethos. Michael Caine let his accent slip only a few times.

There were no automatic weapons in the true battle or the movie, but the episode depicted reminded me of the excellent book The Social History of the Machine Gun:
Because they [Europeans, especially the British] regarded the Africans as weird eccentrics, hardly even human beings, they could look on colonial warfare as an amusing diversion that had little in common with the 'real' wars that had been fought in Europe and might have to be fought in the future. Thus, because the machine gun had become so much a part of these imperialist sideshows, it came to be regarded, by definition, as a weapon that had no place upon the conventional battlefield. The European was obviously superior to the African, so why would he ever be so stupid as to be baulked by a weapon that was really only good for bowling over 'niggers' and 'Kaffirs?' Of all the chickens that came home to roost and cackle over the dead on the battlefields of the First World War, none was more raucous than the racialism that had somehow assumed that the white man would be invulnerable to those same weapons that had slaughtered natives in their thousands.

--The Social History of the Machine Gun, by John Ellis. 1986, Johns Hopkins Press. Page 102 (paperback edition)
While the engineers and inventors were clever, the officer corps, tacticians, and politicians were idiots. [Alter the tense of that sentence at will.]

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