Times Literary Supplement Magazine 6032 : 09Nov18 : When Memory Becomes History -

Times Literary Supplement Magazine 6032 : 09Nov18 : When Memory Becomes History

Yayınevi: Central Dergi

Yayın tarihi: 11/2018

İngilizce |

Tür: Dergi

In 1917, the poet Siegfried Sassoon wrote a statement, which was read out in Parliament, entitled “Finished with the War: A soldier’s declaration”. He wanted “to destroy the callous complacence with which the majority of those at home regard the continuance of agonies which they do not share, and which they have not sufficient imagination to realize”.

In fact, Sassoon’s poetry – as with so many others of the period – precisely helped subsequent generations to develop “sufficient imagination” of what war (not just that war, all war) might entail. “The past is just the same”, as he wrote elsewhere, “and War’s a bloody game”, but our collective understanding of the past, and of bloody conflict, remains shaped by the imaginative efforts of the First World War poets. Like Sassoon, who – following his statement as to the futility of battle – was accidentally shot in the head by a British soldier who mistook him for a German. Or Wilfred Owen, who died in the very last week of the war, and whose mother learnt of his death on Armistice Day a hundred years ago, to the accompanying sounds of bells pealing in plangent celebration.

The question of how to remember the war, and the dead, is understandably asked with greater urgency in this centenary of the war’s ending. Sassoon asked it in his poem “Aftermath”, which shudders under the burden of horrors vividly experienced: “Do you remember the stretcher-cases lurching back / With dying eyes and lolling heads – those ashen-grey / Masks of the lads who once were keen and kind and gay?” The answer is no, of course: there are now too few people to recall those specific sensations; memory has passed into history.

This week in the TLS, Richard J. Evans examines a newly translated German book, Pandora’s Box. It seeks to be universal and definitive in its record of a war that (in Evans’s phrase) “left deeper scars on public memory than any other conflict”. Allan Mallinson considers the final hundred days of fighting, concluding with Churchill’s verdict that “victory was to be bought so dear as to be almost indistinguishable from defeat”.

And it is that bitter cost of war that is commemorated this week and across the years. Although we have no Hall of Remembrance, a building proposed in 1918, we have persistent attempts – in exhibitions, in books, in films (like Peter Jackson’s colourization of historical footage, They Shall Not Grow Old) – to preserve memory and honour sacrifice. “Have you forgotten yet?”, asked Sassoon, with customary, justified rage. “Look down, and swear by the slain of the War that you’ll never forget.”

Stig Abell

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