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War games, holidays and WW1 battlefields

In a article in the Guardian (14 August 2014) Kids Obsessed with war games: there is a cure, by Emine Saner, which was also picked up by the BBC in the Saturday Morning programme on Radio 4. In essence it was about Swedish journalists Carl-Magnus Helegren taking his two sons aged 10 and 11 to Israeli occupied territories so that they could at see first hand the real fallout of war and occupation hoping that this would function as an antidote to their demand for the latest edition of the video game Call of Duty. Apparently the 'holiday' that included visits to Shuafat refugee camp and the occupied Golan Heights shocked the boys and once back home they didn't want to play the games because it didn't seem right.

Helgegren went on to say ¨I hear a lot of parents saying: 'My children are playing these games and I don't know how to get them out of their room'. The next time I hear someone say that I'm going to say: Take responsibility for what your children are playing and either stop it or buy a ticket and go somewhere and show them war. Or buy a book and educate them'. Putting aside the fact that the Call of Duty has an adult rating of 18 years and it would therefore have been appropriate to just say No, the sentiments being expressed here I felt had resonances for a particular aspects of the work we are undertaking at the PPU.

We have recently been having discussions about the Governments £5.3 million initiative to enable 2 pupils and one teacher from every state funded secondary school in England to visit the WW1 battlefields on the Western Front between 2014 and 2019. This programme of battlefield tours is a key part of the Government's plans to commemorate the centenary of the First World War. If this programme of visits was having the impact on pupils that Helegren's sons experienced after their visit then a more than cautious welcome could perhaps be extended.

There are, however, a number of questions that the PPU would like to see addressed by teachers when they are tackling WW1 in schools. For instance, are they being enabled to properly challenge accepted notions about WW1 from a perspective of total opposition to war? Is participation in remembrance ceremonies allowing pupils to consider the carnage and wasteful ness of human life that accompany meaningless exercises in International Power politics?

Going back to one of the points that Helegren made 'Or buy a book and educate them'. We at the PPU might just recommend that every school in England purchase our publication: Refusing to kill, conscientious objection and human rights in the first world war. It would, at least, be a good start and at £10 a copy a significantly cheaper alternative to the Governments recent initiative.

Peter Glasgow