In 1940 the Nazis launched an airstrike against Britain, precipitating the Battle of Britain, though were ultimately unsuccessful at taking control. Hitler's Operation Sea Lion would've allowed the Nazis to use the English Channel amphibiously as well as by air, as they'd already posted a hundred-mile wide front across the other shore in France. The English knew it was coming. This was Orwell's orientation for writing this essay, because even though he was wrong about being invaded--England staved off the Nazi's efforts--his point was that normal paradigms need be suspended for more immediately practical ones.
In an earlier post I wrote about how many WWII reporters were so insulated from the front lines that it became almost cosmopolitan to write about the war. It wasn't real to them, it was just something sensational that happened during their lifetime because they never smelled the sulphur or stepped in entrails. The inevitable Nazi attack relinquished this type of luxury for the English. Imagine being in London, which is less than a hundred miles away from the English Channel, knowing that the Nazi's occupied the same distance across in France, as you were from the Channel itself. That's like being in New Haven and knowing the entire Massachusetts border was occupied by Nazis.
Orwell thus suggests to the editor: ARM THE PEOPLE. We can argue about gun control and the mental soundness of gun holders and weapon registration, etc., but it's important to keep in mind that those arguments only apply to non-war times. The English were staring down the barrel of the gun, and of course the military had its instructions, but the main concern was, "What do normal people do when their country is being invaded?" In America we've conveniently side-stepped that question because there have only been two strikes on our soil: Pearl Harbor and 9/11. They were strikes though, not invasions, and both sneak-attacks at that. So America has never been invaded, or had anything like the bloody history Europe has had. From the French Revolution to the Spanish Civil War to WWI & II to the Russian Revolution to the Middle East disputes, Europe (and the countries surrounding) have been in so many situations where not only are the militaries involves, but normal people, right on their own doorsteps. Americans have been lucky in this context, but this insulation has deprived us of a certain mettle. America has been historically most unified during war times--as national pride always spikes during war--however, I find it curious that it's always been on someone else's lawn. America's national pride has thus become more military-influenced and charged, rather than derived from rugged citizenship. The movie Red Dawn focuses on this, delving into how "normal" Americans would respond to war.
Orwell's physical preparations for the Battle of Britain are as follows: 1) Distribute hand grenades, 2) Distribute shotguns, 3) Block fields against aircraft landings, 4) Paint out place-names, and 5) Distribute radios. Each of these intuitively make sense, and I'm sure more can be added to strengthen them. However, I'll pick one out for some perspective. Blocking fields against aircraft landings would prevent hostiles from taking over the precious towns we call home. The closest thing we have to enemies of our towns are budget committees. We've gotten so used to being so truly unaffected by enemy hostiles that we argue and debate over frivolous matters like poor cell reception and neighbors blowing leaves across the property line. Whether or not England in 1940 banded together efficiently isn't the point, the point of the Battle of Britain is there existed a place where everyone knew that that battle's events could change the very fabric of their reality. That's a reality check, hence, having a lot at stake.
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