By Jingo! For radical historians and anti-militarist activists, the official commemoration of the First World War in 2014 represents a huge challenge. Perhaps it is also a huge opportunity.
There is hardly a community or a family that does not have a connection to the First World War. They will not just be looking back to the past. They will be aware of the wars going on around us – the legacy of what was supposed to be ‘the war to end all wars’. The Government is already putting itself into a position to control the way in which it is ‘celebrated’, much as it has done since 1919 (read more of this below).
Opposition is already growing to the State’s official plans. An open letter and petition has been launched through the Stop the War Coalition. You can sign up your support at http://ww1.stopwar.org.uk/ . But you can do more than this to help.
All round the country, activists and radical historians are planning their own events to try to counter the inevitable jingoism. They have started an email discussion group to share ideas and plans. York Alternative History will be part of this movement of cultural resistance alongside other groups in the city.
Come to our next meeting and add your active support to what will be happening. Plans are already under way for a day school and for a series of films. More ideas are needed.
NEXT MEETING: Wednesday, 19 June, at 7 pm in THE CORNER PIN, Tanner Row, York.
WHAT WE ARE UP AGAINST
There is a massive disparity in terms of resources between officially sponsored events and those that radical and alternative groups will be able to muster. The Coalition Government has announced plans to arrange a long series of commemorations related to the First World War, starting in 2014, the centenary of its outbreak. They are replicating what was done in 1919, when the popular desire for Remembrance was hijacked by the State and the Church. They have already set aside some £55 million. The lion’s share of the cash (£35 million) has already gone to the Imperial War Museum for renovation work. More than £5 million is to be pumped into the school system to take maintained secondary school children to the ‘great battlefields’. The DCMS includes in its sums £15 million which actually comes from the Heritage Lottery Fund (see below).
The spend will not stop at £55 million, as none of this figure includes future events yet to be decided upon.
The DCMS has appointed a ‘prestigious centenary advisory board’ to oversee events yet to be planned. Of the 16 people so far nominated, there are only two historians, both right wing military specialists. There are five politicians, all right wing and/or with backgrounds in defence affairs, including another military historian. There are four representatives of the armed forces, all retired chiefs of staff. The Church is represented by the Dean of Salisbury, while ‘cultural’ influence is confined to two writers, Pat Barker and Sebastian Faulks, both authors of sentimentalised representations of the First World War, and the President of the National Library of Wales. Scotland is not represented – they have their own Five Year Plan.
Other powerful bodies will be adding their weight to these State sponsored events. Top of the list is the archaically titled Imperial War Museum, which is encouraging local community events and has its own dedicated website already in operation at http://www.1914.org/ . Numerous local projects have already joined in, alongside historical associations of one sort or another. Should we be a part of this, inside the tent as it were?
Funding for these projects is available through the Heritage Lottery Fund in blocks from £3k-£10k, £10k-£100k, and over £100k. They claim to have already issued over £12 million to related projects since April 2010. Much of the larger grants will be going to museums and other official bodies to fund their own projects. The HLF don’t say how much money they have in total for this aspect of their work, but the DCMS says it is ‘at least £15 million’, of which £6 million is specifically targeted at young people. Does this represent an opportunity for radical groups to test the waters as to whether or not we can access this type of resource?