The only point which matters about the First World War and its sequels is that they must not be allowed to happen again. Honouring and worshipping those who died in them, praising them for their patriotic sacrifice and wearing poppies as symbols of their blood on the ground where they fell serves only to glamorise the atrocity and pave the way to the next one.
Paul Foot, Galmorising an atrocity, 1989.
It does not matter now, a century after it started, how sad we are about those the first world war killed. Our soulfulness won’t bring back a single slaughtered soldier. What can make a difference is our historical understanding of the Great War, its causes and consequence. History is worth far more than the illusion of memory, when none of us today actually have a memory of being soldiers in 1914-18...
Out of the millions who died, this installation is very specific about who it mourns. It does not include the French, who lost a tenth of their young men, or Russia, where the war precipitated revolution, civil war and famine. And of course it does not include a single German. Instead it is accumulating 888,246 ceramic poppies each of which – explains the Tower of London website – “represents a British military fatality during the war.”
If we can only picture the Great War as a British tragedy we have not learned very much about it. Yet some historians today glibly encourage that blinkered vision. It sells books. Popular history has been invaded by revisionists who tell us that far from being lions led by donkeys in a futile bloodbath, the British soldiers who fought from 1914-18 were fighting, as the propaganda at the time claimed, to defend democracy from militarist authoritarian Germany...In so explicitly recording only the British dead of world war one, this work of art in its tasteful way confirms the illusion that we are an island of heroes with no debt to anyone else, no fraternity for anyone else...
Jonathan Jones, History and all its grisly facts are worth more than the illusion of memory, 2014.
Labels: Britishness, France, Germany, history, war