I have visited the Imperial War Museum in London two or three times. It is one of my favourite. The Imperial War Museum in the North is equally good. It is a brilliant display of weapons, bombs, the crafts of war (photo is an aircraft bomber) and the lives of people living at war. It is welcoming, interactive and the staff brilliantly helpful.
We arrived just in time to see an excellent video which is displayed across all the walls, on every surface. The whole museum sinks into darkness. You find a bench and surrender yourself to a fascinating depiction, sound and fury of war – people describe their experiences in the field, in the city, in the factories. You submit yourself to battlefield of cries, explosions, alarms, hisses. All abilities are met. Everything is signed, written, and spoken. I learned about mortar bombs, hand grenades, chemical bombs, big guns, the tanks, minefields, submarines and torpedoes, automatic weapons, bombers, nuclear weapons, missiles, biological warfare…and that was just the beginning. Every story was told by an individual, describing his or her experience.
When the lights go up, you explore the exhibits. The museum is cleverly organised with nooks and crannies full of surprises, but the route is clearly marked. There are tanks, air craft, bombs, guns, cars. There are letters, books, poems, dresses, tools, binoculars, codes. There are posters. There are photos. There are speeches.
It is not just about the two world wars but the various wars between 1914 and 1994: The Korean War, the Cold War, the Vietnam War, the Six Day War, the War in Northern Ireland, the Iraq War…to name a few.
There is a second video. This is about peace. Peace in some of the countries affected by conflict: Iraq, El Salvador Northern Ireland, Kosovo. People from these places describe their experience of peace…how it is not easily come by, just because the weapons stop. They describe how peace is not easily built unless there is reconciliation and economic and social engagement…how conflict will remain brimming under the surface in silence.
There is more, much more. But our two hours was not enough. To mark International Women’s Day, the museum ran a special tour on the role of women in the war. I caught up with it after a while…just in time to hear the guide talk the role of woman protesting about the Cruise Missiles at Greenham Common.
“I was there,” I said. They all looked at me in surprise.
It seems I’m history!
The Poem is by Wilfred Owen