Wednesday, November 24, 2021

I've stopped wearing poppies. Here's why

Here in the UK, we fetishise the suffering of the English upper classes on the Western Front, as if that was all WWI was about. Yes, Waterloo was (apparently) won on the playing fields of Eton, but the Somme wasn't. Yes, lots of toffs died after writing their war poems, but thousands of miners, farmers and factory workers also died without a line to their names. 

But it was a World War. WORLD war. How much do our kids know about the Serbian campaigns, the war in East Africa, the Middle East or Papua New Guinea? As Michael Gove (not a man I agree with very often) pointed out, it's about more than war poets and Blackadder IV. Do people even know about the Eastern Front or the war at sea? How many of our schoolchildren could even point to the Battle of Jutland on a map?

National sensitivity is no longer required as all the veterans are dead. So can we at last recognise that WWI was a tragedy not just for us but for the Commonwealth, the French (our allies; does anybody remember them?), as well as the Serbs, the Italians and the Russians? Hell, it was a tragedy too for the Germans, Austrians and Turks, who unlike in WWII weren't fighting for anything much less moral than us. Sure, we can even joke about the Americans being late but try looking at their graves and sneering.

Surely we must recall that WWI was a global tragedy and all the victims suffered as much, whatever side they were on. Are Wilfred Owen's poems worth more than the drawings of Otto Dix?