Wednesday 22 March 2017

Kevin Myers: Mankind opts for tales that serve a purpose

Rupert Murdoch, Part Two. There are two key features of Rupert Murdoch. The first, that he is a man of towering personal presence and willpower. The second is that he inherited these binary qualities from his father, Keith. Great fathers seldom beget great sons: indeed, the very opposite is the more usual -- vide Winston Churchill, and his mewling puking drunken brat of an offspring, Randolph.

But what united Keith Murdoch and Winston Churchill is this: they were great men who created narratives that stuck. What defines a myth is that it is universally accepted as a gospel truth. Few 20th Century myths are as powerful as those created by Keith Murdoch -- a man of immense charm and presence -- about the British army and the First World War. This is extraordinary, for he had no knowledge whatever of military matters. He arrived as journalist with some good personal contacts in Gallipoli in 1915, and spent just four days there. Then in London, he wrote up an account of his experiences from memory, and even the 'Australian Dictionary of National Biography' admits that it was full of errors and exaggerations.

Yet its general tenor and conclusions captivated British society, and they remain as an enduring condemnation of British High command -- hence this oft-repeated quote: "The conceit and self complacency of the red-feather men are equalled only by their incapacity. Along the line of communications, especially at Moudros, are countless high officers and conceited young cubs who are plainly only playing at war ... appointments to the general staff are made from motives of friendship and social influence."

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