1914 – 2014: One Hundred Years…

100. A magical number — very round, three digits, exceeds current human life expectancyancy…

The centenary of the Great War ( 28 July 1914 –11 November 1918). It was one of the deadliest conflicts in history, paving the way for major political changes, including revolutions in many of the nations involved, says Wikipedia, and it knows.

For days, the news media was overflowing with images of princes, princesses and world dignitaries without titles photogenically bowing their heads in every spot appropriate for the occasion. Photographs of the battlefields coated with corpses, accounts of seeing comrades blown apart by artillery fire…

British soldiers dash towards the enemy lines in 1914, not long after war broke out.

British soldiers dash towards the enemy lines in 1914, not long after war broke out.

As 888,246 red ceramic flowers stood abloom around the Tower of London, I read an excellent article in the Guardian,  1914: the Great War has become a nightly pornography of violence by Simon Jenkins. It made me think, and it changed my perspective on remembrance, commemorations and ceramic flowers, somewhat. A great deal, actually.

Britain, with its above average number of photogenic princes and princess per capita, excelled in staging of commemorative shows. “A Martian might think Britain was a country of demented warmongers, not able to get through a day without a dose of appalling battle scenes from past national victories,” Jenkins says.

Britain’s commemoration of the Great War has lost all sense of proportion. It has become a media theme park, an indigestible cross between Downton Abbey and a horror movie. I cannot walk down the street or turn on the television without being bombarded by Great War diaries, poems, scrapbooks and songs. The BBC has gone war mad. We have Great War plays, Great War proms, Great War bake-ins, Great War gardens, even Great War Countryfile. There is the Great War and the Commonwealth, the Great War and feminism, Great War fashion shows and souvenirs. There are reportedly 8,000 books on the war in print. 

The Royal Mail has issued “classic, prestige and presentation” packs on the war that “enable you to enjoy both the stories and the stamps”. Enjoy?

Meanwhile our finest historians compete to find the most ghoulish tales from the trenches, the most ghastly cruelties, the goriest wounds. No programme appears on television without some footage of men running through mud. Is there no other way of remembering an event than with images of death, punctuated by men in top hats with silly walks?

So true, isn’t it? Excellent example of commemorative activities becoming oddly “banal, a nightly pornography of violence,”

The most sensible commemoration of any war is not to repeat it. Hence, presumably, the constant references by this week’s celebrants to “drawing lessons” and “lest we forget”. But this is mere cliche if no lessons are then drawn, or if drawn are then forgotten.

Drawn and forgotten… Was the WWI horror beyond human imagination? Little did humans know to what heights their collective imagination can take them… WWI was said to be the war to end all wars. Instead, it has become the preparation and testing grounds for so many other wars, fought with the “lessons” of WWI in perfecting the use of sophisticated technologies and science to kill even more people — 60 to 80 millions in WWII compared to some measly 16 to 18 mills…

The presentation below, by Stijn Bollaert shows the Belgian city of Antwerp in 1914 followed by images of exactly the same places from this year.  How much (or conversely how little) some places change in 100 years! I suppose, the images below attempted to demonstrate the remarkable resilience of our species: We can — yes, we can! — recover from devastation. We need to rebuild, restore… For the future. Otherwise, what would there be for us, the descendants, to bomb, ruin and annihilate?

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3 comments on “1914 – 2014: One Hundred Years…

  1. Reblogged this on So,…hear me and commented:
    Other than one quote here, it’s an interesting article. The media cannot seem to win. Either there is too little coverage or not enough. I enjoy reading every aspect of the Great War.

  2. Hi there! Would you mind if I share your blog with my myspace group?
    There’s a lot of people that I think would really appreciate your content.
    Please let me know. Many thanks

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