Why you can never let conservatives win on reinterpreting history

Howard Zinn fought them in the United States. In Britain they aim to rewrite World War I.

There are no more eye-witnesses to the First World War, which began in 1914, so we are in for a centenary year (or perhaps four) of remembering it all at second-, third- and fourth-hand, and listening to some ugly debates. Schoolchildren in the U.K. learn about the causes of the First World War and of the Second—topics often used to introduce young people to the problems of historical truth and interpretation. Michael Gove, our education secretary, has announced that this commemorative year should be spent “battling left- wing myths that belittle Britain,” which are responsible for what he regards as dangerously unpatriotic satires, particularly the 1963 musical Oh! What a Lovely War and the 1989 BBC sitcom Blackadder Goes Forth. His counterpart or “Shadow” in the Labour Party, Tristram Hunt, a well-known historian, has responded angrily that “attempting to position 1918 as a simplistic, nationalistic triumph seems … foolhardy, not least because the very same tensions reemerged to such deadly effect in 1930.”

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