Will first world war exhibitions be too jingoistic?

Rebecca Atkinson, 15.01.2014
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Will first world war exhibitions be too jingoistic?



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Anonymous
MA Member
22.01.2014, 16:19
Isn't this poll a touch pointless? How can people be meaningfully polled about what's going to happen in the future?
Rebecca Atkinson
MA Member
Online Publications Editor, Museums Association
17.01.2014, 15:27
Comment from Bryan Hunter on LinkedIn:

Why is remembering those who died for their country jingoistic. They made ultimate sacrifice for the their country and the freedom of their country and its way of life. While researching my family tree it has become quite shocking the dreadful toll many families made during both World Wars and if carrying out an act of remembrance can be thought of being to patriotic then count me in.

The white peace poppies sold in November now I din't think any old soldier who has been to war or has seen combat would disagree with their aims. Now saying that why can't they pick their own day instead of selling them at the same time as the red poppies. The money raised by selling the Red Poppies goes to help those people from the armed Services in need, now where does the money from the sale of the white poppies go.
Rebecca Atkinson
MA Member
Online Publications Editor, Museums Association
17.01.2014, 15:29
And a response from Chris Wood:

There's nothing jingoistic about remembering people who died. The rest of Bryan's comment needs some unpacking, however.

1) The focus on those who 'died for their country' ignores non-combatants, as I wrote in my original post.

2) Whilst Bryan writes "their country" does this not actually mean "our country"? German servicemen also died "for their country and the freedom of their country and its way of life".

3) Britons who died in WW1 cannot be said to have died for the freedom of Britain: Belgium and France, perhaps, but not Britain. Belgium was perhaps the biggest victim of WW1 and that was being played down even at Versailles in 1919.

4) It is more accurate to say that Britons who died in WW1 did so for the British way of life - i.e. social hierarchy, feudal industrial relations, lack of female votes (progress away from all of which was held up by the war) and living off the cream of Empire.

5) Patriotism, as usually understood, is a luxury we can no longer afford. Defence of homeland and coming to the aid of others under attack are one thing. 'My country right or wrong' and better than others, is quite another. Indeed, one Briton who died in Belgium in 1915, Edith Cavell, is quoted as saying, the night before her execution: "I know now that patriotism is not enough. It is not enough to love one’s own people: one must love all men, and hate none."

6) White Peace Poppies cannot have a "their own day" because they are a direct reaction to the Red Poppy campaign. It's not about where the money goes; after all, we all pay for military expenditure in our taxes, whether we like it or not, along with the NHS and social services. No, the Red Poppy Campaign actively glorifies war, including modern wars where the ethical justification is much less than WW1 (Iraq, Afghanistan) and where patriotism is irrelevant. The White Poppy represents a call for an end to war and remembrance of everyone, on all sides, killed, injured or made destitute and homeless by armed conflict.
Rebecca Atkinson
MA Member
Online Publications Editor, Museums Association
16.01.2014, 10:44
Comment from Duncan S. Mackenzie on LinkedIn:

I seriously doubt it. The prevailing attitude in Britain is one that the First World War was a bloody and muddy mistake, the result of donkey generals. It shall be an apologetic elergy for the fallen (almost entirely British, with little on the French, whose army was vastly larger and took vastly larger casualties, or the Italians, or the Russians whose casualties range around 10,000,000). Any flags won't be waving: they'll be rising to the Last Post.

All of it shall be a great pity. I'm a bit of a student on the First World War. I find the 'Blackadder Guide to the First World War' to be very misleading, but I strongly suspect the next five years shall have many a reference to that light tome. The usual themes: lions led by donkeys (slander); generals fighting the last war and so using outdated tactics (what else were they supposed to use? A crystal ball??); the general were all cavalrymen (not true); the hell of the trenches (on average, a British infantryman spent 4-to-6 days a month in the trenches); the 'knock away the Austro-Hungarian/Turkish props' strategy (sorry, but if you really wanted to win the war, you had to defeat the German Army itself). I could go on, but I would be going even more off-topic.

Having said that (alright, having written that), there may be room here for new approaches to the interpretation of the War in museums. A fresh approach.
Chris Wood
MA Member
15.01.2014, 18:33
I think the risk is threefold. 1) There is a tendency to glorify the sacrifices made by British, Commonwealth and Allied servicemen and -women, whilst ignoring the plight of non-combatants and the fact that ordinary people (combatants or otherwise) on ALL sides were the victims of geopolitical machinations and a basic disregard for the sanctity of life. 2) Local commemorations frequently treat wars as natural disasters, focusing on the impact on the local community and the heroism of local people in the face of something no-one could do anything about, leaving out the big picture, where it was the actions of people, whether politicians, military leaders, industrialists or financial interests, that led to or away from conflict. 3) Where there is discussion of the causes of the war, it usually focuses on simplistic notions of 'who started it' and assumes 'we' were on an innocent socio-economic path that was disrupted by 'them'. To question that comfortable fiction is seen as controversial, just as wearing a red poppy at the beginning of November is de rigueur in some quarters, whilst wearing a peace poppy is deemed unpatriotic. And that surely is the core problem. Patriotism made people on all sides fight, but we avoid critical examination of that fact for fear of reproach from the families of those who died. Yet we shy away from questioning patriotism at our peril.