It is so important to learn the lessons of the First World War
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I love history. It was always my favourite subject at school and today one of my great pleasures is using my National Trust membership to visit stately homes, castles, and museums across the country.
But the way history is taught in this country is episodic – and I suspect it always has been.
During O and A-levels we learned a great deal about the Tudors and the Stuarts, but effectively history started with the Battle of Bosworth in 1485 and ended 203 years later with the Glorious Revolution.
What I’ve learned about English history pre-1485, and British history from 1688 onwards has tended to be from my own reading or television documentaries.
The other big subject for history is, of course, the causes of the Second World War. Can there be anyone with the slightest interest in the subject who doesn’t know why the world went to war in 1939?
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But why did the First World War start in 1914? That’s been a mystery to generations over the last 100 years – including myself.
Yes, we knew the Kaiser wasn’t a very nice chap and wanted to expand the German empire. But that’s not really a reason to understand the horrors of the Somme or Flanders.
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As the centenary of the outbreak of war has approached over the last few months new books, television documentaries and even dramas have helped to explain the reasons behind the conflict.
That is very important for everyone with an interest in the past – The First World War has for too long been dismissed by too many people as a pointless waste of millions of lives.
There was not the clearly-defined evil that lie behind the Nazi government which pushed the world into its second global conflict of the 20th Century.
But now we are understanding a bit more as historians explain why the Kaiser’s ambition of a German-dominated Europe had to be resisted.
What a pity it’s taken 100 years for that knowledge to be more widely known. The generation who fought in the First World War have now all died – and yet until now all many of us knew about the conflict was the horror of the trenches.
It is wrong to glorify war. It is wrong to diminish the importance of the war. It is wrong to celebrate the anniversary of the First World War.
But it is absolutely right to commemorate the anniversary and to learn about the conflict.
This week I learned that the name of a relative of mine I knew nothing about is on the war memorial of the Suffolk village in which I was born.
That has provided me with added interest in the events around the country and the continent. The First World War might have been my grandfather’s conflict – but it had a vital role in creating the world we know today.