I have just been reading through the “Missions and Objectives” of the official government project for WW1 centenary commemorations. You can see for yourself at this website
I was compelled to make some comments of my own.
We encourage you to align your New Zealand-related First World War centenary activity with the mission, objectives and principles of the WW100 programme.
This is a strange sort of statement, isn't it? Why is the government “encouraging” me to align my activity with their “mission, objectives and principles”? What if I disagree with those principles and objectives? Then I suppose the government will not “encourage me” any longer. So if I continue with my “unaligned” activities, what does that make me? An outcast, or a traitor? I really wish they would come out with black and white statements, instead of burying their ideological position under a whitewash of polite professionalism.
WW100 is a programme established by the New Zealand government to mark the First World War centenary through a range of activities from 2014 to 2018.
To foster appreciation and remembrance of how the First World War affected our nation and its place in the world, both at the time and beyond.
The more I think about the nature of contemporary remembrance commemorations, the more I am convinced that they actually have nothing at all to do with history or war. This might sound strange, but actually it doesn't require too much deep thinking to understand. The buzzword “remembrance” is deeply and fundamentally ideological. There is no one alive who can literally fulfill the solemn duty. It does not indicate any sort of critical engagement with the nature of history or war. The focus will be about the hideous conditions in the trenches, the brave acts of heroism and self sacrifice, endless family anecdotes told in a sentimental tone, etc etc. There will be a sort of quasi – serious 'debate', with outsiders like the pacifists and the role of the Maori soldiers. Then there will be books and documentaries about the poor old horses who were also killed in the trenches.
All of this “remembrance” will be suffused with the moral imperative to “appreciate” your history. You must above all appreciate the sacrifices made by the dead you are commemorating. They died so that you can now be free. It is bad taste to question this. This moral imperative and its associated tone of solemnity and spirituality fundamentally undermines any serious attempt to actually engage critically and honestly with history. It is an ideological whitewash which involves a subtle form of moral blackmail.
Through the WW100 programme we will:
- Commemorate New Zealanders’ service and sacrifice in the First World War
There's that sacrifice word again! I've written far too much already about that powerful little word, with all of its quasi religious undertones. It's just funny how apparently unremarkable and 'obvious' it is. Of course, if we hadn't won the war, we'd all be speaking German now! How awful that would be!
- Explore how New Zealanders’ war experiences helped to shape our distinct and evolving national identity and aspirations
This is highly vomit worthy. There is no doubt WW1 had a huge cultural impact, but the nature of this impact is a far more twisted and dark sort of thing than this chirpy little bullet point suggests. One very significant fact is that most NZ servicemen who returned from the war were simply unable to speak about their war experiences. And the rest of the country really didn't want to listen. At the heart of the matter is a deep and awful silence which shapes “our distinct and evolving national identity”.
- Highlight New Zealand’s enduring commitment to peace, global security and international cooperation
By commemorating the most pointless and stupid war of the entire twentieth century. In a way which sentimentalises brutal state violence and marginalises any serious political scrutiny. For the phrase “peace and global security” translate drones, GCSB, NSA, …..
- Strengthen New Zealand’s bilateral relationships with Australia and all other participants in the First World War
This is I think a quite crucial aspect of the ideological apparatus. Commemoration activities function as a sort of 'booster shot'. We, the public body, need to be reminded of Who We Are. We are the victorious West. We are the inheritors of the Grand Liberal Tradition of Freedom. I think there is a clear link here to the notion that we are living in 'post political' times, that we have reached the end of history. The projected image of WW1 : black and white, old fashioned, incredibly distant. The very remoteness of this image allows us to project our own victorious modernity on to it so easily.
- Deepen understanding of the First World War by telling and preserving stories about New Zealanders’ war experiences at home and abroad
Look! A book about Gallipoli soldiers who were also rugby players! Look! Another book about horses! Look! A sentimental movie about pacifists!
- Provide a living legacy of the war’s impacts and on-going significance, so current and future generations are more informed
War is just so important, isn't it? What if some nasty terrorists did some nasty things to a good western country? We would have to be prepared to step up again! So we must make sure our children have the right attitude! So let's “inform” them about history.
Activities will reflect New Zealand’s unique culture and identity.
There will a balance in tone between remembrance and appreciation, in accord with the nature of particular events.
All New Zealanders will be encouraged to participate in activities.
Various elements of the programme will be inter-connected to maximise their reach and benefit, and the New Zealand programme will be linked to other countries’ programmes.
Wherever possible, activities will support central government, local government and community objectives.