on 20 May 2014
After managing to get past the irritation caused by the title, I enjoyed this book and found it informative and very worth reading. Without the “further reading” section and the references, both of which are copious, it is a concise text and I would recommend it as an important read for anybody who wonders about Britain’s military and economic place in the world.
On the title, restricting it to a particular geographical area, England, ignores the fact that society is about people, not arbitrary lines on maps. The people who worked in the industry came from all parts of the UK.
One of the courses on my own degree was called “Man and the Environment” and I like to imagine, or at least hope, that Prof. Edgerton, if he based this book on a course he taught, that he had to spend the major part of every opening lesson of his course, trying to deal with this issue, -- just like my lecturer had to with his title! Indeed, Edgerton has clearly been taken to task over this at some point because he proceeds to dig himself in deeper in the introduction to the second edition by trying to justify it. Just change the title!!
The book is touted as a “polemic” by reviewers such as the Guardian newspaper, but its main premise that Britain is, and has been, one of the largest designers and producers of military aircraft in the world, will come as no surprise to the people who work in the defence industry and take notice of what is going on around them. I don’t know exactly where we stand at the moment, but throughout my life we have been as high as the third or fourth largest supplier of weaponry to the rest of the world, a fact that was brought home to me back in the 1970’s, when the sonar system I was working on, as I thought, for the Royal Navy, was sold to the Chinese instead! I conclude that it is the media and academia (with Prof. Edgerton as one exception) who are really the culprits here in not discussing the issue fully. I’m not sure if Edgerton felt or justified that this was a deliberate act on the part of the UK’s managing elite, but I have to admit that I picked up the book feeling that this was the case before I even opened it so maybe I read into it what I wanted to see.
The 1st edition was written at the end of the 80’s so I think a surprising omission, are adequate notes on the Harrier jump jet and Concord. I don’t think this has been sufficiently rectified in the 2nd edition in 2010, considering how world leading both projects were, and how other county’s manufacturers significantly failed at duplicating them. Of course Concorde was in collaboration with the French, but that is also an important part of the story concerning the British aviation industry of the last 40 years that appears to have been glossed over.
I wasn’t impressed by the illustrations, being in most cases to my mind somewhat unconnected with the text apart from some showing the capability of aerial reconnaissance photography and the effects of mass bombing. In general, they seemed to be a bit of an afterthought.
Another concern of the book was the effect that social class had. But is it surprising that the first half of the twentieth century the UK aviation industry was apparently moved and shaken by people with money and who had been to public school? Was ever such in British industry and society? However, such a view fails to sufficiently acknowledge the massive contributions made by the likes of Hawker, Whittle, Camm, and many others who had worked their way up from an apprenticeship or were even self-taught.
The other thing I had difficulty with was the attributing of various motives and actions to political factions. As a baby boomer myself, I felt that such terms as left and right wing, socialist, conservative, liberal etc. had lost a lot of their meaning even when I was going to school in the 50’s and I found it difficult to see the point of discussing it in the book. There might have been a generality of sorts for people who believed in state control of production or whatever, to have been against the development of the aviation industry and for others to have been pro it, but I’m not sure I could see it fully. Not having been educated in sociology or history I would have liked Prof. Edgerton’s definition of these political types for the purposes of his book. Certainly in the last 30 years of politics in this country we have seen the notions of left and right completely blow away so I would think that younger readers would certainly benefit from an explanation of how these terms are being used.
Anyway, I found the book to be a good enough read to encourage me to other Edgerton works. At present I am reading “Britain’s War Machine” and I would have loved to have been able to take one of Prof. Edgerton’s courses. The subject is key to understanding Britain’s place in the world and the effect, good or bad, that we have had on it.
The first edition of the text can be found at [...]
Rock on All!