Marking a hundred years of history is often a big celebration. This new year is the centenary of the once so-called Great War. At the top of the news list on BBC this morning is this glowing treatment.
I have no reason to doubt the facts as presented, but it strikes me as an effort to put a pretty face on something that was horrifyingly ugly.
From the article:
By setting it apart as uniquely awful we are blinding ourselves to the reality of not just WW1 but war in general. We are also in danger of belittling the experience of soldiers and civilians caught up in countless other appalling conflicts throughout history and the present day.
I’m not convinced. I haven’t ever seen at least half the myths presented.
How should the West remember WWI? Does too much remembrance along the lines of glorification belittle the sacrifices made by people a century ago? Does too much forgetting endanger our future?
I would hardly call the BBC column glowing treatment of the War. Unlike WW2, I don’t think many people *glorify* the Great War in the West. The column itself is kinda proof of that; it only exists because of the nearly universal condemnation of most aspects of the Great War even among the “victorious” nations (of whom only the USA* and Japan came off arguably stronger for it). And many of the points made are valid, so far as they go.
It’s still called the Great War, FWIW, albeit not so much in America. Americans were only in the war for its last third, and it was not the trauma for the USA that it was for most of Europe (save Portugal, Scandinavia, Switzerland and the Netherlands – btw, it’s extremely remarkable that Spain stayed out of that war) and many of the European colonies. Casualties on the western front in the Great War were worse than in World War II (the eastern front in both wars was even more awful, of course).
I have an indelible memory of attending a Remembrance Sunday service in Montreal’s Anglican Cathedral 20 years ago. Full honor guard, the works. They read the names of all the members of the parish who were killed in the Great War. It took around an hour, IIRC. Nothing like that in the US. Canada and Australia and NZ, very much like that.
* Even so, by 1933, the USA saw its major medium of popular culture end with the most searing ending ever to a major Hollywood musical: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CzMy7-7WV44
Which tells you how many Americans thought of WW1 by that time, if you look at the layer underneath the condemnation of how veterans (the Bonus Army) were being treated contemporaneously, you see self-accusation about the mechanism of mass war.
Correction – replace Portugal with Spain.