Cameron`s attempt to re-write history is a desperate attempt by a Prime Minister, completely out of touch with the feelings and beliefs of ordinary people, to score electoral points. As soon as the initial idea of an official commemoration to mark the centenary of the start of the war was mooted, the fear was that politicians would compete with each other to convince voters that their patriotism was greater than that of the others, and their emotions more sincere, and, typically, the Prime Minister has set the ball rolling with his description of World War One as "epic". What next? Boris Johnson dressed in khaki re-enacting a charge across no-man`s land in the gardens of Buckingham palace?
Cameron also said that a "commemoration,that like the Diamond Jubilee celebrations this year,says something about who we are as a people. Remembrance must be the hallmark of our commemorations". Like the Jubilee celebrations!! I`m surprised he didn`t announce the creation of a First World War theme park, or a competition to find the best General Haig impersonator. No doubt there will be celebrities cashing in, too, with remembrance records, television series and books galore, few written by historians, and, of course, the ubiquitous commemoration tee shirts, plates and mugs.
If remembrance is to be the "hallmark", what exactly is it we should be remembering about World War One? Of course, we should annually acknowledge those who gave up everything in their firm belief their country needed them, but if Cameron and co. have their way, the acknowledgement next year will be more like a national circus of jingoism. Should we be remembering the huge failure of governments, not all elected by their people, to prevent a continent drifting into a needless war, or their willingness to send millions to their deaths.Despite knowing about the likelihood of trench warfare ensuing, the 1914 British recruitment campaign included the lie that the conflict would be over by Christmas; how many thousands were tricked by this deliberate deceit? Is it okay to remember how the army allowed many children to enlist, knowing full well their true age but encouraging them to "age a little in the next hour" and "sign on" later. No doubt, governments would not like our memories to focus on the tactic, an inevitable consequence of the type of warfare adopted, of ordering the young volunteers and conscripts to walk towards the enemy`s machine guns! Similarly, as the war dragged on, are we allowed to recall the fact that for both sides on the western front, the conflict was allowed to develop into a war of attrition, with the country having the most soldiers left after the slaughter of millions, winning? Perhaps the private schooling and military college education of the war`s tacticians wasn`t so hot after all?
We should certainly remember the role the press played in confirming the feelings of superiority already engendered by the so-called "history" taught in British elementary schools at the start of the century. If the young people didn`t know about the British empire spreading "civilisation" and all other cultures being "barbaric", they certainly did after reading the Daily Mail and the rest of the now correctly-labelled "gutter press"; they knew,too, that Germany was wrong to want Dreadnought-style ships in their navy, like we did, or to want to conquer other countries because of their potential to provide cheap labour and raw materials, and to buy the resulting manufactured goods, like we did. The owner of the Mail, Harmsworth, admitted his paper stood for the "power, supremacy and the greatness of the British empire"!
Apparently, one of Cameron`s chief advisors on the war-fest, Dr Andrew Murrison, has complained that film and TV comedies like Blackadder have left the British public with little understanding of the war. Really? It couldn`t have anything to do with more government-inspired tampering with history, could it, nothing to do with our perception of the privately-educated, largely clueless, officers, the "donkeys", making mistakes, repeating failed tactics time and time again, and actually causing thousands of deaths? Why, it might even reflect badly on our present privately- educated politicians and officers, who seem as keen as ever to spend billions of taxpayers` money on preparation for future, needless wars.
Commemoration will transform into celebration, remembrance into commercialised recollection, and the whole affair looks like it will, fortunately, be seen for what it is, political electioneering masquerading as respect for the victims; the public will spot Cameron`s motives and, thankfully, his attempts to gain kudos from the suffering of others will backfire, just like Osborne`s efforts to gain popularity at the Olympics. The Tories are distanced so far from reality, they don`t even realise that the re-enactment of the Christmas 1914 football match, which epitomised the war`s futility, will emphasise an aspect of warfare they want to ignore! Labour leaders need to be wary of falling into this "celebration" trap.