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Posts Tagged ‘WWI’

Snow News Day

If you follow me on the Twitter, you might have noticed the little icon that appears when I post a link to this blog, showing a pile of Greek helmets; the same image appears on the cover of Harloe & Morley, eds., Thucydides and the Modern World (2012). It’s part of the Greek section of the Inter-Allied WWI Memorial at Liège, which also features a long quote from Pericles’ Funeral Oration, which is of course why I first came across it; with its explicit echo of ancient commemorative practices, the pile of empty helmets also evoking a macabre heap of skulls, it’s rather stunning. I’ve not seen it in the snow, so I’m very grateful to Bernard Wilkin, a historian at the Belgian State Archives, who spotted my image and sent over this recent picture…

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Interesting that, more or less the moment I finish writing a piece for Aeon magazine (due to appear 22nd October) on the use of Pericles’ Funeral Oration on war memorials and in remembrance services for the war dead (the short version: this happens a lot, and is somewhat problematic), David Cameron makes his announcement about plans for the celebration of the centenary of the First World War. Don’t I mean ‘commemoration’ rather than ‘celebration’? I wish I could feel more confident about that. Yes, that’s the word he used, but it’s a pretty odd sort of commemoration:

…a commemoration that captures our national spirit in every corner of the country, from our schools and workplaces, to our town halls and local communities. A commemoration that, like the diamond jubilee celebrations this year, says something about who are as a people.

Yes, he eventually gets round to mentioning the fact that people died – and the mention of 16 million shows that he’s not just talking about the British and their allies – but then he rapidly switches back to the national theme: their “sacrifice” was made for us, and made us what we are today. The notion that the whole thing was a senseless waste of life, exploiting the patriotic feelings of the populations of many nations for the sordid self-interest and over-weening arrogance of their politicians and ruling-classes – a version that is promoted by conservative historians as much as anyone – doesn’t enter the picture. Remembering the dead is an occasion for us to be persuaded to feel good about ourselves as a nation, not an occasion to curse nationalism. (more…)

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