True Brits: The shame of the captured British navy

Shame! Crimson, trembling, post-imperial shame. The group of British Navy personnel captured in the Shatt al-Arab waterway by an Iranian gunboat on March 23, and released almost two weeks later, returned today to their ship off the coast of Iraq. Readers may remember the appearance of these sailors on Iranian TV, apologising lavishly for having entered Iranian waters and assuring the world of the benevolence and sophistication of their captors.

Surely only the most frightful off-camera treatment could have produced this capitulation, this parrot-talk, this mousse-like collapse of British fighting spirit? Surely there were gleaming tools involved, and Oriental cruelty unparalleled? Er, no. As Seaman Arthur Batchelor told the Daily Mirror, his Iranian hosts broke him down by stealing his iPod, flicking the back of his neck and then -- lowest of blows -- comparing him to Mr Bean.

Quite unmanned by this devastating psychological assault, Batchelor cried himself to sleep.

In the UK, Batchelor and his fellow ex-hostages now enjoy the media profile of disgraced Reality TV stars. From the intensely controlled and artificial situation of their captivity they have emerged to discover that their behavior on-set was not everything the general public would have liked it to be. Some call them a disgrace to the Armed Forces; others opine that they behaved "both honorably and rationally" (the London Guardian). What lessons can we learn? Only this: if the thought of the Iranian Republican Guard messing with your playlists brings tears to your eyes, you're too attached to your iPod.

--James Parker

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