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.
ARD POSTC FROM N LONDO