ISSUE 46
AUTUMN 2004
Peace Matters index
 

we’re doing Iraq this term

 

   

 
 


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-  the night before armistice
- evolutionary moves
- We’re doing Iraq this term
- public diplomacy
- a book isn’t just for christmas


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50 years ago there was a war in which the Allies saved the world from an evil dictator, Saddam Hussein.

A swift conflict resulted in the regime being brought down and a new democratic government established. To help you understand that war, today we are visiting some of the old battlefields and cemeteries.

From the top of this slight incline you can clearly see the advantage the Iraqi troops had over the Americans fighting their way up this slope to make the area safe...

The Americans had better equipment than the Iraqis. Here you can see the remains of an Iraqi landmine – pass it round. This kind of mine had already been outlawed at the start of the 21st Century but the Iraqis used them nevertheless. This bright yellow item is part of an American cluster bomb – one of the most advanced weapons available at the time…

In this cemetery are buried the fallen Allied soldiers who gave their lives for the peace and freedom you enjoy today. See if you can find someone from you’re your hometown. You may want to leave a message of thanks and condolence for them. We have some crosses you can pin your message to here – stick the cross in the ground next to the brave soldier you would like to remember.

 
       

IS this how we would like future generations to learn about the current conflict in Iraq? I certainly hope not. This is, however, how many school children learn about the World Wars and those wars and battles before them.

School visits to battlefields and cemeteries are increasingly popular. The British Legion’s school travel service took 331 schools on trips to battlefields and cemeteries. They are not the only ‘travel agents’ doing so.

For the British Legion the aim of their school tours is to “offer an interesting, exciting period abroad with a historical emphasis. We intend that this should increase historical awareness, military knowledge and pride in past national achievements and actions.”

In the vast war cemeteries, educational activities consist of searching for the grave of the youngest fallen soldier or someone from the local town, tending graves, leaving messages of thanks and laying wreaths. “A customised poppy wreath with your school badge inset can also be provided,” say the British Legion.

Children on trips to Flanders are encouraged to walk in the old trenches and craters to try to experience what it was like in battle (The Imperial War Museum in London has even reconstructed a trench for those who cannot get to the real thing). In the neatly kept trenches they may be lucky enough to find real historical artefacts – a bullet, a piece of barbed wire… or part of a human!

It seems that the first hand experience is very valuable. According to The Battlefields Trust, “the best way to understand a battle is to walk the ground and get a feel for the landscape at first hand”. First hand experience allows one to “fully appreciate the military potential of a slight rise, the real scale of a steep scarp or the significant cover that might have been offered by a particular hedgerow”.

“Hands on experience of objects is an invaluable part of the battlesite experience” Battlefields Trust’s educational policy

Handling artefacts or walking the route the cavalry may have taken can, no doubt, be educational. But is the historical development of weapons or military tactics really what we want young people to learn about? It is a good way to learn how to conduct future battles but does not help future generations to avoid similar situations.

Since 2000 the British Legion’s Remembrance Travel service has been taking British military recruits to Ypres, Somme and Normandy. 5000 recruits went last year and their visits ‘helped to foster pride in their chosen profession, and make them appreciate the core values of the Army’.

Children, easily influenced, will return from their visits with increased knowledge of how efficiently certain weapons kill; proud of national achievements in which hundreds of thousands killed and died; sad at the loss and sacrifice of so many who fought and killed for peace; and with an appreciation of a slight rise in the landscape. Is this what we would like children in the future to learn about the current war in Iraq? Would they really have a greater understanding of the war in the whole by handling bits of bombs and walking along old trenches in the desert?

These visits focus on certain factors but miss out much else. By doing so, they not only hide important issues and events but they make it impossible for children to question the actions and intentions of those who led the charge to war, and of those who now lie dead in the cemeteries. Challenging questions are hidden behind sorrow and pride whilst the building blocks to acceptance of militarism are laid.

According to the Battlefield Trust’s educational policy, “information panels [at battlefields] need to focus upon ‘what’ took place and ‘where’. The ‘why’ element is useful but not always essential.” The ‘why’ element is surely the most important, for if children do not know why a battle or war occurred they will not be able to ensure it does not happen again.

Wouldn’t it be more beneficial for young people were to learn about alternatives to using war as a means to solve disputes? Shouldn’t they be learning about the attempts to solve conflicts peacefully and how and why these attempts sometimes fail, sometimes succeed? They should be encouraged to ask questions about the reasons, ideas and forces that led so many people to slaughter each other. These are the kind of questions we would probably like future generations to be asking about the current war in Iraq. So why is there such a different attitude to learning about wars in the past?

There is no doubt that children can learn a great deal from visiting battlefields and cemeteries. The key is to ensure children learn to reject war as a tool for solving disputes. At present they learn how sad but necessary, inevitable and honourable it is.

If you are a teacher I would like to hear your views on this issue. What do you think children learn from these visits? Do you have examples of better learning experiences? Are we right to be concerned about battlefield and cemetery visits? Get in touch and let me know.


Oliver Haslam

 
     

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