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It is a national characteristic beloved of the British, to see themselves as a small, cultured island race of peaceful intentions, only roused when faced with bullies and with a God given mission to disarm cheats. Rather than subject gating and exploiting poorer people overseas, they prefer the image off emancipating them. English school history books invite us to rally with Henry, the fifth to defeat the overwhelming French army at Agincourt or to join Drake in a leisurely game of bowls before he boards his ship to route the Mighty Armada and thwart its malevolent Roman Catholic king. The British also cherish their heroes when they're losers. The charge of the light brigade is seen as an honorable sacrifice rather than a crushing defeat for brave soldiers at the hands of their incompetent commanders. Disdaining technology, Captain Scott arrived second in the South Pole and perished miserably. Such legendary exploits were ingrained in the collective British mind when in 1939 indigent and unprepared, the country went to war and soon was hailing the chaotic Dunkirk evacuation as a triumph. Delusions are usually rooted in history and all the harder to get rid off when they are institutionalized and seldom subjected to review. But delusions from the past do not beset the British mind alone. The Germans, the Russians, the Japanese and the Americans all have their myths and try to live up to them, often with tragic consequences. Yet Japan and Germany, with educational systems superior to most others in the world and a generally high regard for science and engineering design, lost the war. Defeat always brings a cold shock of reality, and here was defeat, with cold and hunger and a well clothed and well fed occupying army. As a daily reminder that you must do better, the conquerors sat down and wrote their memoirs and bathed in the warm and rosy glow that only self satisfaction provides. Britain's long tradition of greatly overestimating its own strength and skills leads it to underestimate foreign powers. Our Victorian heyday still dominates our national imagination, and our island geography has often enabled us to avoid the consequences of grave miscalculations by our leaders. Such good fortune cannot continue indefinitely on. Perhaps a more realistic look at recent history can point away to the future. That is not just muddling through. One good reason for looking again at the Second World War is to remind ourselves how badly the world's leaders performed and how bravely they were supported by their suffering populations. Half a century has passed on. The time has come to sweep away the myths and reveal the no less inspiring gleam of that complex and frightening time in which evil was in the ascendant goodness diffident and the British impetuous, foolish and brave beyond measure the world's only hope.