REFLECTIONS

Looking is one thing; understanding is more difficult. Visiting military cemeteries, battlefields, walking round castles, touring former military sites, watching re-enactments of historic battles: activities like these are part of ‘educational’ school trips or family days out. Pleasure, excitement, and a dash of education: good value.

Informative material provided by organisations managing these kinds of ‘heritage’ or ‘museum’ sites is often excellent. But presentation of the sites and their histories almost always reinforces the feeling that war is an inescapable, often heroic, and legitimate part of the fabric of life.

It is a challenge to students and adults to look more critically at the military cemeteries, military strongholds and monuments to see what brought them into existence. How much are they models of aggression, not signs of a wish for peace? How much do they represent people’s past readiness to solve disputes by killing? What peaceful acts might have been more heroic? History is packed with struggles to survive against poverty, bad management, disease and the weather, struggles mostly unhonoured unlike those of the makers of war.