Mr Bean strikes again! Yes everyone’s least favourite piss-poor Pob impersonator is back after the Christmas break to have a go at…history. There seems to be an issue with the way we view the first world war in this year – the centenary of it starting. Firstly I have an issue with the whole “celebration” around this event that the right and the Conservatives appear to be proposing – you do not celebrate a war in which millions died completely needlessly on both sides. It was a travesty and an embarrassment to all who laid their lives down for king and country. So why has Gove put in his tuppence-worth? Well Pob reckons that:
“But even as we recall that loss and commemorate the bravery of those who fought, it’s important that we don’t succumb to some of the myths which have grown up about the conflict.”
He added: “The conflict has, for many, been seen through the fictional prism of dramas such as Oh, What a Lovely War!, The Monocled Mutineer and Blackadder, as a misbegotten shambles – a series of catastrophic mistakes perpetrated by an out-of-touch elite.
“Even to this day there are left-wing academics all too happy to feed those myths.” – BBC Website
Maybe Mr Gove has forgotten that us academics use these texts as an introduction to the topic in a way that allows pupils to see in comic or dramatic terms what this experience would have been like. No one alive today was there or could begin to imagine. It is also the beginning of looking at poetry from the soldiers who were at the front like Sassoon and Owen whose words cut through the nonsense of the things that Gove talks about “an unhappy compulsion on the part of some to denigrate virtues such as patriotism, honour and courage”. The huge irony from me is that the poem most often taught in schools is “Dulce Et Decorum Est” a powerful poem about the reality of the fight and life on the front line – this is not left or right-wing propaganda it is the beautifully tragic composition of a man who watched his friends and countrymen die around him.
For Michael Gove to make comments on the political slant of texts or the view of history is unacceptable and hugely unprofessional. No-one doubts that all involved at every level was patriotic, honourable and brimming with courage and to accuse us of belittling their sacrifice is truly missing the point of why we teach these type of texts. We do it to show these very virtues and how even with them at the heart of the actions the war was a disaster, won with as much luck as skill and an abominable waste of human life. If Mr Gove really wants to rewrite history and make it all about his personal beliefs then he may find that it’s a terribly long and difficult job and one he won’t succeed in.
For those who have been away from the classroom for a while here is the most commonly poem used in Schools across the UK from the war. The reason being, it was really the first time the authority of those in charge was directly challenged by one of those on the front line to the masses. The final line is in Latin, but the translation is “it is sweet and right to die for your country” from a quote from an Ode by Horace. Judge for yourself if teaching this is left/right or any other political standpoint – or perhaps maybe just reflecting the reality for a man who died the day before the end of the First World War.
Dulce et Decorum Est – Wilfred Owen
Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of tired, outstripped Five-Nines that dropped behind.
Gas! Gas! Quick, boys!—An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling,
And flound’ring like a man in fire or lime…
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.
In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.
If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,—
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est Pro patria mori.