Mike col­man

The Courier-Mail - QWeekend - - UPFRONT -

The Bri­tish did a won­der­ful job with the com­mem­o­ra­tion of the be­gin­ning of World War I. Thou­sands of pop­pies were dropped from Tower Bridge, ice sculp­tures rep­re­sent­ing the dead melted slowly at Birm­ing­ham, and roy­als laid wreaths on both sides of the Chan­nel. The pub where my fam­ily and I were eat­ing din­ner went dark at 10pm and we ate by can­dle­light.

The next day I took my son and his friend to the Im­pe­rial War Mu­seum or, as they should call it, the Im­pe­rial Anti-War Mu­seum. Main at­trac­tion is the new World War I ex­hi­bi­tion. Crowds to see it are so large that when you ar­rive you are handed a card with a time on it, in our case two and a half hours in ad­vance. You walk around, look at ev­ery­thing else and re­turn for en­try at the ap­pointed time. I can't put into words how good it was. Or how dis­turb­ing.

It takes a lot of re­al­ity to im­press two 14-year-old boys who have been on more Black Ops mis­sions and blown away more en­e­mies on their com­puter screens than Justin Bieber has Twit­ter fol­low­ers, but this did. It star ts with a quick au­dio­vi­sual dis­play that ex­plains how the whole mess started, and how pride and stu­pid­ity saw it es­ca­late. Then you get to see the hor­ror up close: the crude weapons used to bash each other's heads in dur­ing trench war­fare, the ef­fects of mus­tard gas, pho­tos of men drag­ging wounded mates through mud up to their knees; and last letters home writ­ten by boys, not much older than mine, to their heart­bro­ken par­ents.

You leave by walk­ing through a trench, the ex­act height and width of the hell­holes in which civilised men lived like rats. From there you see a fi­nal, short film that asks if we have re­ally learned any­thing from the War to End All Wars.

You only have to turn on the TV news when you get home to see the an­swer to that. We re­ally are bloody id­iots.


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