Saturday, July 20Royal Holloway's offical student publication, est. 1986

The Tories Must be Stopped from Re-writing History!

2014 marks the centenary of the start of World War One, a travesty that shook the world and claimed millions of lives. For many, it will be a year of mourning or reflection, though for some revisionist historians, being led by key Tory politicians, it is an opportunity to challenge what we remember altogether.

In October 2012, Prime Minister David Cameron announced that his government would spend £55 million on commemorating this centenary year, comparing the ‘celebration’ he wants to lead to that of the Diamond Jubilee. Michael Gove too recently laid the gauntlet for this commemorative year by condemning ‘left wing myths’ about world war one, supposedly spread by programmes like ‘Blackadder’ and ‘left wing academics’. He states that those who fought in the war were actually ‘…conscious believers in king and country, committed to defending the western liberal order’ – something that has been blasted by academics since.

Gove is actually towing the line of several ‘revisionists’ like Margaret Macmillan who are trying to re-write our recollection of the war, theorising that deaths were a necessary sacrifice, and justifying Britain’s role through a prism of good empires and bad empires.

The reason the right-wing so desperately want to challenge our perception of this war is because they would love nothing more than to have people think that those who fought wanted to, as they shared a sense of patriotism. This offers the government the chance to say that anyone who criticises the reasons for going to war can be lambasted for their lack of patriotism.

Only a few months ago the Tory leadership were chomping on the bit to go to war in Syria – an effort that we can see from hindsight would have been futile, and a further waste of life. Warmongers like this don’t want us to heed the lessons of the past – they want us to glorify the war dead, but not challenge why they died at all.

World War One was not a war about civil liberty or fighting the scorn of fascism – like the war that succeeded it in 1939 – it was a war between the big global powers of a growing imperialist world. It was a tragedy where at least 10 million people were slaughtered, often being led blindly into battle. Here, the notion of ‘Lions led by Donkeys’ springs to mind.

Remembrance has been somewhat of a controversial subject in the last two years of the student movement. When it comes to remembrance, we should not just stop at simply remembering the fact people died – we must remember why they died, be absolutely critical of this and fight for peace in the future. After The Great War, students across the world began an annual meeting in France; they believed that as the next generation of people, they had an obligation not to repeat the mistakes of the past, and to ensure nothing as horrible as World War One ever happened again. The student movement was built on the notion that we should we fight for a better world, a more humane society and do all we can to stop the unnecessary loss of life through war. This fight is more than worth having, so let’s spend 2014 discussing war, but let’s not let Cameron, Gove and co, turn the tide on what really happened.

Article: Jamie Green

Photograph: Ian Britton (featured); wikimedia (main).