26th January 2017: Day 7 - Why We Fight
Today I went to the Imperial War Museum. I went because, despite growing up in London, I’ve never been before. And I’ve never been because:
a) I’m not really into museums (although I go to them when I’m abroad) and
b) I have never really fancied going to see a whole load of war memorabilia
Also I think I imagined it to be a self-congratulatory and glorifying war. It wasn’t. The first thing you see as you walk in the grounds is this massive gun with giant bullets around it. On entering the building (after you’ve passed through security checking your bags) there’s a plane and taking a walk to your left you pass the shop and come to a tank. I have this thing about freight trains. When they pull into stations I get a chill and usually turn away. There’s something ghostlike about them which I don’t like. They freak me out. And that’s the same reaction I had when I saw the tank. I think it might be the first time I’ve seen one in real life and it freaked me out, I didn’t like it. I was glad I checked online this morning, to see what was on exhibition because I knew that I wasn’t going to stay long if it was all tanks and fighter planes and guns so I walked through that section and made my way to the lift which took me to the fourth floor and the Holocaust Exhibition.
My knowledge of the Holocaust is restricted to novels I’ve read and the odd film so I was really interested to see this exhibition. It starts by showing you what life was like for Jews before the Nazis came to power, using family films, interviewing people who would have been children or teenagers at the time. These vignettes were shown on TV screens in each section of the exhibition. There were benches to sit on so we could keep watching until we got back to where we started on the loop. There was also footage of Goebbels speaking in public talking about exterminating Jews, and Gypsies and Homosexuals and the disabled because they were less than human. The ills of the country, the financial depression, even the revolution that occurred in the first World War was blamed on the Jews and the language used was around stamping them out, getting rid of them permanently. The people of Germany bought the lies and propaganda because someone had to be blamed for the way they were living. The exhibition took us on an Ikea-like route and seemed to intuitively know when it might just be a bit too much so gave us the option to take a quicker route out. I initially continued although I knew it was already too much for me but I tried anyway. Until I came to Auschwitz. I couldn’t look at the model on the table, nor could I sit on the seat and listen to the commentary. It was too much. I couldn’t do it all in one go and I’ll definitely go back to see the rest of it.
I remember watching Band of Brothers the HBO serial about a company of soldiers in the Second World War and realising that I didn’t get the point of war especially the practicalities. A group of men (or boys) shoot arrows, spears, bullets, bombs (depending on the country and era) at another group of men (or boys) who then shoot back and the person who kills the most in that location win the battle. If they win enough battles, if they manage to overpower their enemies then they win the war.
Watching the footage where the Nazi’s were feeding the people false truths gave me chills because I could hear parallels with what is happening in the so-called free world today. People are feeling disenfranchised so are blaming ‘the foreigners’ - the Mexicans, Muslims, the open European borders. And it made me wonder how far we are from living in a modern Nazi-esque world. And then I remembered where I was; in the Imperial War Museum and I remembered the Band of Brothers and the episode where they came upon the concentration camp. And I remembered the title of that episode Why We Fight and I realise I can’t then say I don’t understand the senselessness of war. I may not like it but I can understand it. I can understand why it may be necessary.
I don’t believe we will find ourselves in the same position the Germans found themselves in Nazi Germany because the times are different, the world is smaller and information more widely available. We know better now, don’t we? And if we know better, then as Maya Angelou said we should do better shouldn’t we?
But then, what do I know?