It is still five weeks to Remembrance Sunday and Armistice Day but it surely will be no more than a week or so before poppies begin to make their appearance on British television, and a few days after that they will be ubiquitous: “remembrance” of “the fallen” and all that goes with it (and quite a lot goes with it) is pretty much compulsory in official Britain (presenter Jon Snow has referred to “Poppy Fascism”).
We are a year out from the hundredth anniversary but already the commemoration is cranking up, though not in a manner that is to everyone’s satisfaction. Max Hastings, writing in the Daily Mail back in June, warned that there was a mood afoot in Britain to try and get through the thing without being beastly to the Germans, and – yes – political correctness had taken hold. Let no one suggest, Hastings fulminated, that anyone other than the Germans and Austrians bore any responsibility for the conflict.
In the Guardian (October 5th), Ian Jack reviews, largely favourably, what would seem to be an engaging if conventional popular history of the war, as seen from the home front, by Jeremy Paxman (Great Britain’s Great War, published by Viking):
What had it all been for? In his introduction, Paxman proclaims sternly that “it won’t do” to think of the first world war as a pointless waste of life, with Wilfrid Owen’s poetry providing “the urtext of the conviction that all war is futile”. But these are two different points. All war may not be futile; some wars certainly are. Naturally it helps our understanding of this or any war if we recognise “why so many people at the time believed it to be not only unavoidable but even necessary”, which he says is his book’s purpose. But we can understand this and still believe the war to be futile.