Comment: The following article is an analysis of the 'dynamic narrative' surrounding the phony 'thwarted terror plot' on a French train going from Amsterdam to Paris last month, published in the ultra-liberal London Guardian.

Its author - a 'journalist', supposedly - while acknowledging that there is no accurate account of what actually happened because there are countless versions of what happened, apparently delights in the fact that Western authorities published utter drivel about the incident...

© Michel Euler/AP/Michel Euler
All-American Action Heroes: Chris Norman, Anthony Sadler, French president François Hollande, Spencer Stone and Alek Skarlatos.
A narrative straight out of the second world war changed every time you read it and, true or not, each re-mix added something delightful

The story of the French terror train was - and remains - uplifting, heroic, wonderful. From an early stage, however, a simple scenario - tourists overpower gunman - showed an extraordinary capacity to shift shape, to subtly adjust itself in sync with the expectations of competing national interests. The different versions didn't cancel each other out in the way that a new scientific theory renders earlier ones obsolete. Functioning more like re-mixes that combine to enhance the value of the original track, they overlapped and supported each other in certain key areas while diverging in others. What follows is not a painstaking forensic reconstruction but an account of how the events were experienced via the usual jumble of internet, TV and newspapers.

The first version I heard was epic in its simplicity: a gunman on a train in France had been taken down by off-duty US marines. Sands of Iwo Jima on a TGV! So the Guardian seemed guilty of sloppy usage when it referred not to "marines" but "soldiers" - a distinction jealously patrolled by both wings of the military. But then it turned out that there were no marines involved. The heroes were actually a member of the US air force, Spencer Stone; a national guardsman, Alek Skarlatos; and a student, Anthony Sadler. A major letdown for the Marine Corps, this version played even better to an impartial audience. While marines might have been expected to go on the offensive these were three Californians on holiday, one of whom - according to early reports - responded with the simple command, "Spencer, go!" This was later amended to "Let's go!" with its echo of the doomed heroics - "Let's roll!" - onboard United 93. Either way, Spencer and his buddies went. No UN resolutions were required for an invasion - sorry, I mean intervention - where evidence of weapons of considerable destruction was plain for all to see.

The trio comprised two whites and one African-American, an alliance that symbolically - if all too briefly - healed the wounds of a body politic racked by racial conflict. They rushed the terrorist, disarmed him and, as Sadler explained with a marvellous lack of rhetoric, "beat him until he was unconscious".

At this point the script seemed like a rewrite of the old joke about Omaha Beach: the Americans supplied the blood and France provided the sand. There were reports of someone, possibly French, being shot, but there was a conspicuous lack of French resistance. The guards went running down the train and took to the barricades only in the sense that they barricaded themselves behind locked doors. This damning verdict came not from some latter day Patton - who summed up the role of the Resistance in preparation for D-Day as "better than expected, less than advertised" - but from the French actor Jean-Hugues Anglade who thereby took on the role of that most contentious of contemporary heroes: the whistleblower. His finger was cut "to the bone" as he smashed the glass on the emergency alarm. Ouch!

Comment: Note also that the surname Anglade means 'the anglophone' or 'the English one'...

Never a nation to be outdone or upstaged - in spite of the fact that some of our most potent narratives, from 1066 to Scott of the Antarctic to Italia '90, are celebrations of hard-done-by-ness - Britain had a have-a-go hero onboard in the shape of Chris Norman who, at the first press conference, sat alongside Alek and Anthony as they were presented with medals. With the World Athletics Championships in Beijing about to get under way and Spencer still in hospital Chris was in the bronze medal position but, like a marine trained to advance towards gunfire, he proved more than ready to step up to the microphone. Whereas the young Americans stuck to their we-just-beat-the-crap-outta-him version, Chris articulated his and their role with an eloquence and relish that was, by comparison, Churchillian.

It so happened that Newsnight had recently invited Richard Overy and Juliet Nicolson to discuss the myth of the Battle of Britain. Yes, it was our finest hour but we had an understandable tendency to overstate its importance in the overall scheme of the second world war. Wasn't there a touch of that here? Credited with helping to "overpower the gunman", Chris's role seems to have involved helping to tie up the prisoner after the Americans had settled his hash. Well, they also serve. And, as Nicolson emphasised, myth does not mean "falsehood"; the variations, elaborations and contradictions add up to a needed truth of their own.

Comment: Indeed, such 'truth' is 'needed', but all these little lies add up to a Big Lie; that 'the West won WW2' (it certainly took the spoils, but Russia and China defeated the fascists), and that America and allies are 'saving' the world from 'Islamic terrorists' (they're not; there would be no Islamic terrorists if the West just stopped intervening to 'save' people and countries).

The undisputed hero of the hour, meanwhile, Spencer, was glimpsed coming out of hospital with his arm in a sling (his thumb had been nearly severed) and a neck wound. In his absence a TV crew interviewed Anthony's parents, who were justifiably proud of their son. (His dad described him as still being "in country", as though France were a free-fire zone somewhere near the Mekong delta). Eventually Spencer was reunited with his two friends and able to appear before the world's media. Anyone who has spent time in the US will recognise the type: strong, decent, honest, unfailingly polite and with a sense of right and wrong so highly developed as to take a terrorist threat as a personal affront. Combine that with the US tradition of can-do pragmatism and it was a safe bet that of all the passengers aboard, Spencer and his crew were the least likely to take this lying down. The key thing is the absence of any tendency to complain that "they" (the council, the state) have or have not done something. The downside of this commendable outlook is that it is used to underwrite the ideology of the free market whereby everyone, however powerless or disadvantaged, is left to fend for themselves.

Comment: ...left out of this 'dynamic narrative' is the fact that 'those industrious Americans' became so, and maintain their position as such, by violently stealing stuff from everyone else.

The boys were rewarded with phone calls from their president and the award of the Légion d'honneur. It was great, they loved it, but wasn't there a hint of, Dude, what happened to my vacation? Or, to put it another way: Does this mean we're going to meet some French chicks?

By then it had emerged that the first person to react, who was shot as he tried to wrestle the AK from Ayoub El-Khazzani, was French-American. And someone else was already grappling with the gunman before this first - ie second - respondent got involved. But because both wished to remain anonymous, the French were left in the position, not entirely unfamiliar, of expressing gratitude for foreign help. Then the number two was revealed as Mark Moogalian, whose French wife came forward to explain how he had been shot after rushing the gunman and how Spencer stuck a finger into an artery to stop him bleeding out. At the time of writing the identity of the person who first confronted the gunman remains unknown.

Comment: As such, the entire sequence of events remains unknown.

A pleasant side-effect of stories like this is that we can enjoy the funny or absurd touches - such as El-Khazzani continually asking for his gun back - with no diminution of admiration. On the other hand, the glow of universal approbation can't blind us to the way that, since any story of success translates into a public relations opportunity, there will be tacit jostling for maximum PR advantage - even if the featured protagonists are indifferent on this score. As things stand at present, the Americans head the league table of second world war allies, with the Brits doing credibly (with a few questions about a tendency to varnish the historical record) and the French emerging as heroic victims. Even our former enemies, the Germans, got a piece of the action courtesy of Alek who was sporting a Bayern Munich shirt. A happier outcome is hard to imagine.