First World War commemorations

Published in Issue 5 (September/October 2015), Letters, Volume 23

Sir,—John Gibney (Seen on TV, HI 23.4, July/Aug. 2015) commented on the ability of relatives of those who died in Gallipoli to ‘[have] respect for both those who fought in the war and those who fought in the Easter Rising’. Like others, Dr Gibney has taken the simplistic approach that the only way to remember Irishmen who fought and died in the First World War is to hold jingoistic commemorations akin to those in the UK. Of course the role of Irish soldiers should not be forgotten; nor, however, should it be commemorated in a way that glosses over the complexities of Irish involvement in the war and, worse, glorifies the wholesale slaughter of working-class men from every country involved. Historians do the public a disservice by being uncritical of First World War commemorations that are jingoistic in nature and promote the old lie, Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori. Historians should endeavour to ensure that the imperial past of Europe is not used to justify the crimes of modern-day imperialists. In our eagerness to remember those who died in the First World War we shouldn’t lose sight of what that war was: an imperial conflict responsible for millions of pointless deaths.—Le meas,

BREANDÁN Ó CONCHÚIR

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