Lights, lighty light lights – First World War and correct commemoration

Hello! I’ve been away submitting my thesis and return briefly with this short post because comments are closed on Garry Sheffield’s blog (I guess he must get a bit more spam and haterz than I do).

Anyway, here’s the post I’m responding to on the ‘lights out’ project, of which more can be read here.

People seem to hate this project! And perhaps:

– It is part of a wider problem about lack of government funding for commemoration of the war.

– It is a dumb idea.

– It has some questionable assumptions beneath it.


If these are the case, I want to see arguments for them! I want to know why this particular idea

“is predicated on the belief that the war was a terrible tragedy – which of course it was – but also that it was some sort of accident.”


It just looks like academic snobbishness about the proper way to commemorate the war, a motivation that will alienate more than it will inform the public.


It strikes me as odd how easy it is for historians of this subject to start using ‘respect for the war dead’ as a justification for the extent to which they are affronted by ‘Lights Out’. I was guilty of this myself the other day over on George Simmers’ blog when I wrote:

“If we want to do justice to the Great War, we’re going to need to take every single opportunity to teach it, and teach it well.”

It is lazy and wrong. I felt weird typing those words at the time, but only seeing Sheffield write them here: “The Government’s present attitude is an abdication of leadership, and feels like a betrayal of the memory of the men and women of 1914-18” forced me to see more clearly that it is just plain lazy. We all care about the war dead and war wounded. One side cannot claim to care more. That’s just plain old rhetoric.  If one side can be shown to be ignoring large chunks of history to force some propagandistic programme down our throats, then let it be shown, and we can all enjoy the spectacle of it getting torn to shreds. Show me that with ‘lights out’.

This is my challenge to you world, and here endeth the lesson.

I’m off to watch Jessica Meyer on the telly now (Ripping Yarns starts at 21:00) and you should too!


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