Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Imperial War Museum

The Imperial War Museum in London is an interesting place. We had a few hours there, with my Mum over the half-term holiday. WWII has a massive, and ongoing influence in British culture - the sacrifice and cameraderie of a nation uniting to defeat the evil of Nazism, is a compelling image of national goodness and gallantry. Indeed I remember my Grandpa talking with obvious pride and nostalgia about wartime experiences, and comrades.

For generations of us brought up on such recollections, or on the Dambusters, or The Great Escape, the sight of a Spitfire or a Lancaster can produce a satisfying nostalgia. How easy it is though to forget, in the middle of such displays that everything on show in the great hall of the Imperial War Museum, is an instrument of death. Every machine, every vehicle, every piece of equipment, every aircraft are killing machines. Every Spitfire that risked pilot and crew to down enemy bombers heading for London, or Coventry, and defend us from tyranny, spat out bullets that ripped through the bodies of mother's sons, children's Dad's, wives husbands, someones' neighbour, someone's friend. Unlike the Imperial War Museum North (in Manchester), the main part of the London exhibition has too much kit, and not enough humanity. I would maybe have felt differently if I had attended the Holocaust Exhibition on the top floor, but (afraid that my young children were neither capable of dealing with the subject - or acting appropriately in it) sadly I didn't manage that.

The kids really loved the "Horrible Histories: Terrible Trenches" exhibition though. Based on the TV/series and books, the informative, grizzly and funny exhibition engaged and educated the kids for ages; and left the adults with an interesting ethical dilemma about how long should pass before a tragedy is suitable material for satire. Everyone agreed that the death of Saxon King Edmund II, being stabbed up the rear-end by a Viking hiding in his toilet was ripe for such humour; but has long enough passed since WWI for jokes to be made about malnutrition and lice in the trenches? Here there was less agreement. Either way, the kids were happy - and learning, and asking serious questions too.

Most bizarely however, we met another family from the same school as our kids, and then found out that our kids babysitter was in the museum at the same time as us, and we missed her!

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