I’m neither English nor a patriot. I’m the daughter of a Scottish man who has a genetic memory of rage against the Highland Clearances, and an English woman who lost her father after he suffered shellshock in WWII and “went Doollally,” in the parlance of the time. He abandoned my mother just after she was born and she never saw him again. I’m from Coventry, a forever ruined city which serves to remind anyone how truly Pyrrhic victory can be.
So it’s hard for me to identify with the patriotism of the English, and the fervent martial pride people often display on the anniversaries of wars.
Working on the 1940 Chronicle with RAFBF has been surprisingly transformative; I love the campaign, and it’s part of my job to promote it. But as we’ve been planning and strategising to help the wonderfully written words reach their audience, I’ve found that the stories have started to seep into my soul as much as the audience have begun to connect with these fictional characters and their very real situations.
The campaign was created around the idea of bringing historical events to life using new technologies, using the contemporary to make the past relevant; the characters blog and tweet the events of this day in 1940 as though they’d had access to iPhones and pcs and the like.
I’m almost ashamed to admit it’s the tech stuff that’s made these stories so real to me; I’ve heard eyewitness accounts from so many sources, but suddenly pieces fell into place. How very connected we are now, how very fortunate we are to live in a time when it’s both physically and culturally possible for us reach out to one another.
It’s helped me think differently about my grandfather, how terrifying he must have found it being tormented by dreams of explosions and screaming, feeling as though he was alone in the world with those horrors. My grandmother, keeping a stiff upper lip, knowing nothing, unable to imagine the things he’d seen. And my great aunt, tirelessly nursing the wounded, keeping cheerful and busy and waiting all the while for a letter delivered by boat, months late, to tell her he wasn’t coming back from the front.
I’m struck by the realisation of how very lonely I would find a life where my only possible human interactions were face to face; as much as I treasure solitude, it’s always a choice.
Even I draw the line at the idea of social media bringing about world peace, but maybe it’s not so outrageous. I found myself asking if World War Two could even have happened if there had been the possibility of sharing knowledge so widely and so fast? For example, Wikileaks genuinely seems to be affecting the direction of the war in Afghanistan, and a growing diversity of information sources certainly shifts popular opinion on the subject. Forgive my reducing something so large and complex to a dumb question, but can you remain in ignorance of the humanity of your fellow man when you’re connected to him, when you’ve seen what his house looks like, know you share a love of music or making people laugh? Is it simplistic to think that when we connect with something real and meaningful, constructs like nation and religion will begin to seem irrelevant?*
Language constraints and internet snark aside, could you really go to war with and be instructed to kill someone you follow on Twitter? Could social technologies make conscientious objectors of us all?
Primo Levi said
Meditate che questo è stato Vi comando queste parole. Scolpitele nel vostro cuore
– Never forget that this has happened. Remember these words. Engrave them in your hearts.
Today is the 70th anniversary of the Battle of Britain. As part of the Day of Action, we’ve asked people to do one small thing to commemorate those heroes. This post is for everyone whose lives were touched by that war, with deepest gratitude and respect to those men and women who fought and suffered and died so that we could be free. And perhaps being a hero for a day will be the catalyst we need to become heroic every day.
*I know it is. But a girl can dream…