Tuesday, 5 August 2014

WWI commemoration 2/2

The trouble with the First World War`s commemoration is that its driving force is a government with its head stuck firmly in 20th century sands.It sees history and education with the eyes of a 1950s grammar schoolboy, heroic and nationalist, white and British, and pretty similar, in fact, to the history learnt by the young men, soon to be volunteering in their thousands to fight "for king and country", in the early years of the last century.
  However, it has to be said that, up to now at least, the commemorations have not been as overtly political as feared. We have not seen the awful mayor of London, dressed in khaki, and inviting Joe Public to visit the city`s newest tourist attraction, the WWI Theme Park. Not yet, at least, but there`s still time!
  The truth is, however, the commemorations have not been used as the social and cultural bonding tool they have the potential to become.
 Is it not true that at least 95% of this country`s adult population know something about the war and the slaughter in the trenches of the western front? However, how many know of the sacrifices made by the two million Africans serving in the war as soldiers of labourers, or by one million Indians, or 140,000 Chinese? Then there`s the roles played by the Vietnamese and the Maoris, the Tunisians and Moroccans; fighting did not only take place on the western and eastern fronts, but in Africa and the Middle East too, briefly venturing into Central Asia and the Far East. Families were devastated on the colonial homefront too, simply because just as the war was caused by imperial rivalry, so the fighting was carried out by the inhabitants of those rival colonies.More needs to be done in schools, but the education must not stop there. Prime-time TV programmes would help, as would articles in all newspapers; there is a debt which needs paying, and it certainly hasn`t been paid in the last 100 years.
 Increased knowledge of such details could help to encourage social harmony, whilst simultaneously challenging the right-wing nationalism espoused by Ukip and such like, and exposing the hypocrisy of the coalition government with its sudden emphasis on "fundamental British values". Since when have individual liberty, mutual respect and religious tolerance, to name but three of those named, been the preserve of the British? Racial intolerance could well be on the rise in many parts of the country, and a serious examination and commemoration of all who fought in both world wars would play an important part in underminimg it!

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