WW1: The War That Changed The World

Senior Commissioning Editor, BBC World Service

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Recording The War That Changed The World at Imperial War Museum, London.

Sarajevo, Dresden and now London. The BBC World Service in partnership with the British Council has now recorded three of the ten debates it is holding around the world over the next year to uncover the global legacy of WW1 - the war that changed the world. The series involves leading historians discussing different subjects - the psychology of war, the new mechanics of killing, the effect on nationalism and on borders; on families and politics. There are three presenters: historian Amanda Vickery; and BBC journalists Razia Iqbal and Allan Little.

Most importantly it tackles each subject from the view of different nations.

In Sarajevo Allan brought together Serb and Bosnian historians in front of an audience at the War Theatre named such as it was as it was founded during the siege of Sarajevo 20 years ago. It was an event where history was indeed with us in every word. We then moved onto Dresden and historians in Germany discussed the effect of being blamed for the war and whether that blame was fair. We will go on to discuss the legacy of war in Turkey, India, France, Russia, Kenya, Jordan and the USA. Each country has a different experience and a different memory of this war.

What has struck me at every event so far is the way WW1 is so deeply entwined with the world as it is now. It's not part of history but part of the present. At the hugely impressive newly laid out Imperial War Museum - the venue for our latest debate - there have been lengthy queues for the new WW1 gallery. Our subject for debate was the psychology of war - what makes us fight and what the legacy was. Many people came forward to speak of the effect of war on those who fought but also the legacy - the pain - passed on to each succeeding generation. The "intense emotional labour" as historian Joanna Burke put it for those left looking after those who took part.

The centenary of a war that cost the lives of millions around the world, which changed history for ever and brought new and unimagined scenes of horror is not one to be dealt with lightly. There is though a very different reality for those in the UK to many others around the world. Here there can appear a romantic almost nostalgic tone as if this was a war of poetry and poppies. Something the excellent iWonder-guides online also put paid to, but the World Service is fundamentally about chronicling the age we live in. It offers a place where people can tell their story without fear or prejudice. It often makes uncomfortable listening; more often inspiring listening. It's also a place to debate ideas and most importantly to hear other perspectives. And as Mandela said, how can you know yourself if you don't know your own history? And increasingly, knowing our own history means understanding the World's story not just our own country's.

Much of our global audience is young. For them the details of this war are not easily available. There are few war memorials in many of the countries who fought in this war. But fight they did with over a million and a half men from India taking part. There were battles in Benin, China and the massive Mesopotamian front - what is now Iraq. And the legacy of this war - the national boundaries it changed, the protectorates and perhaps most of all the lasting impact on those millions who took part in it is something which affects lives now. That's why we record live debates with live audiences about events 100 years ago.

Steve Titherington is Senior Commissioning Editor, BBC World Service




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