Three generations after Crutwell died in a Lunatic Asylum and was buried six feet underground the Waughs are after his blood. As if it were yesterday his crime appears to stain them. I doubt, as some claim, that it is because they believe Crutwell fornicated with dogs that offends them most but rather that he referred to the man who was later to become the twentieth century’s greatest novelist as: “a silly little suburban sod with an inferiority complex and no palate – drinks Pernod after meals!”
In this simple statement we find the root of all conflict, not in the content but implied in its logic. In short Crutwell asserts that there is a type of person who by dint of birth, or taste, may declare themselves superior.
The Japanese claimed to be racially superior to their enemies during World War 2, and the Germans were not much better, if at all? Accounts of the treatment of opposing sides during wars in Korea, Vietnam, and various African states are equally harrowing.
But who was Crutwell you ask? C.R.M.F. Crutwell, Dean of Hertford College, Oxford, from 1920-25 was Evelyn Waugh’s history tutor at Oxford. He hated Waugh with a vengeance and the feeling, it seems, was reciprocated since Waugh frequently lampooned Crutwell in his novels via a series of characters bearing the name.
Waugh’s son the columnist Auberon, (1939 – 2001), it is said, once stood for Parliament under the self-styled ‘standard’ of the ‘Dog Lovers’ Party’, another jibe at Crutwell claims Auberon Waugh’s own son Alexander, who is also a writer.
As someone who suffered a journalistic apprenticeship on a provincial magazine I would never dare write such things were I not sure of my facts. To express an opinion is one thing, it’s called free speech, but to accuse people of specific behaviours even when believed to be true must only occur where there is proof. In this instance I’m pretty confident since my source is the BBC documentary ‘The Waughs, Fathers & Sons‘ in which Alexander Waugh, and other members of the Waugh family confirm its substance.
I enjoyed the documentary immensely because Alexander Waugh set out to explain in detail how as seven year olds we may have the impression that we’re distinct human entities separate from others by dint of time and space, in fact we are the bearers of mantles woven generations ago when perceived injustices occurred.
This view accords with the postmodern, and latest, theories used by Family Therapists to repair injured minds and relationships.
Evelyn Waugh spent much of his service career during the second world war in what was to become Yugoslavia, then, just as during the 1990s, the region was factionalised by ethnic and religious differences. Tito appeared to put a stop to all that for a generation and then, shortly after his death, families who had lived and co-operated with each other during his tenure set out to obliterate each other.
When this happened it wasn’t the old folks who could directly remember how life had been prior to 1940 who dug up Mausers and fowling-pieces to make war. It was, as is ever the case, youth armed with automatic weapons and stories of past injustices to which they would add their own and thus inevitably ambush future generations.
Tony Burkson, writing on Africa on the Blog, asks: “Why are young people of African origin rampaging and destroying their own community? When Africans and Caribbeans started emigrating into the UK decades ago, most of them were studying or working hard, living with extreme racism and disrespect. But they carried on and worked and studied and made something for themselves. What changed?”
I venture that nothing has changed with the exception that decades ago those people studied and worked hard in order to restore dignity to a race abused for generations by European colonialists and slavers. In Tony’s own words they were ‘living with extreme racism and disrespect’, and then suddenly, at last, the new youth found the means and opportunity to demonstrate that intimidation isn’t simply a white prerogative.
Whenever wars occur the antagonists blame their enemies, and later historians examine the facts.
In 1979 A.J.P. Taylor published the book ‘How Wars Begin’, which is the inspiration behind the heading for this piece. In it, as in earlier works, he asserts that Hitler had no master plan to invade Europe but was simply an opportunist who did so because in the moral, political and military vacuum of the 1930s it was possible to do so. I venture that Hitler’s insistence that an armistice with France, on 22nd June 1940, be signed in the French General Ferdinand Foch’s railway carriage where, to conclude World War 1, Germany was forced to accept many humiliating conditions put to them by the allies supports the view that injustice begets injustice.
There is a touching scene in the documentary about the Waughs in which young ‘Bron’ Waugh, who could only have been seven or eight when the film was made, spits on the grave of his great, great, great, great, grandfather a forbidding man known to the family as ‘The Beast’. The boy was not told to do this but did so in an attempt to join in with what he believed to be his family’s position, about the man, and thus belong within his unusual family.
Alexander Waugh is quite right when, later in the documentary, he asserts: “My son believes himself to be an individual, but in reality there’s no such thing. We’re all part of a chain and we can only make sense of ourselves not by looking in a mirror, but by looking carefully at those who have gone before us”.
If you think this is an argument against taking self responsibility, then you are reading this with a closed mind. The truth is that we cannot become the authors of our personal histories until we know, and understand how we came to know what we do about the world. Only then may we stand aside from it. In many ways I agree with what Phil Clark has written here, although I would probably use different words.
Our universe is far more magnificent than our every day experience permits us to admit, but the stories we invent about those whom we believe to be inferior to us, within it, have the power to murder.