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SPRING 2015 |index


Refusing to Kill


It was previously reported that the PPU had held discussions about the Governments £5.3 million initiative to enable two pupils and one teacher from every state funded secondary school in England to visit the WW1 battlefields on the Western Front between 2014 and 2019. This programme of battlefield tours is a part of the Government's plans to commemorate the centenary of the First World War. We met with one of the key organisers, from the Institute of Education, to discuss the educational work of the PPU and more specifically how the PPU could potentially contribute an anti-war perspective to this initiative.

Our discussions were successful and the Peace Education Officer has now completed two sessions for the IoE's Continuing Professional Development (CPD) one-day events for teachers who are accompanying pupils on their visits to First World War battlefields and cemeteries. One of the CPD events took place in Manchester the other in London.

The morning is concerned with the nuts and bolts of the visits but quite rightly throughout the event stress is given to the importance of pupils engaging in preparatory work so that the visits are meaningful. The nature of this preparatory work is not proscribed so teachers do have significant autonomy to determine the sorts of projects in which pupils can be involved. Teachers are encouraged to access the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website, so that pupils can find the names of local men who are buried in the cemeteries that they will be visiting and then research their stories so that some sort of individualised context is available at specific graves.

Interestingly, the actual reason for every school to send 2 pupils and a teacher to visit the battlefields and cemeteries appears not to be something that is considered. It is perhaps taken as read that it is just a good thing.

A keynote speaker completes the morning session. In Manchester a revisionist historian from the Western Front Association waxed lyrically whilst "debunking" the idea that "lions were led by donkeys' and then decried the pernicious influence of the lefty sixties and seventies anti war movements that trivialised the achievements of the Great War epitomised by the film Oh What a Lovely War. After that a vociferous sideswipe at the false perspectives espoused by "bloomsburyesque" overly sensitive middle class war poets was hardly a surprise.

In London a more reasoned presentation was concerned with the experience of combat on the Western Front where a case was made to define the heroism of the British Tommy in relation to his "tough, reliable and stoical" fortitude in the face of the horrors of trench warfare and the use of deadpan humour alongside a "belligerent pride in endurance " that revelled in seeing the thing through.

The PPU welcomes the opportunity, afforded by the organisers giving an hour in the afternoon to a session entitled Ideas for the classroom: The Peace Pledge Union, to provide an alternative view of the War and perhaps more importantly to ask what is it that pupils are being expected to remember and commemorate. This session allows the raising of a number of questions with teachers that we believe should be aired in schools to challenge accepted notions of what World War 1and subsequent conflicts represent. During this period some PPU concerns are broached including those relating to the fact that serving British soldiers accompany the school parties. Also questioned is a view that the British Army was in WW1a diverse organisation, fighting for freedom, with which a modern ethnically diverse society can have pride, by reference to the fact that countries who sent manpower to the slaughter like India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Nigeria, Ghana, Guyana, Jamaica, to name just a few, were at the time subjugated within the British Empire.

Also shared with teachers are some of our teaching and learning materials,
particularly those that complement our publication Refusing to Kill conscientious objection and human rights in the first world war. Related teaching and learning resources here.

Underpinning the exercises and ideas within this session is the belief that war is wrong and futile and that remembrance and commemoration of war should be taking place within an anti-war perspective that promotes pacifism. The teachers that are attending these events have differing views and ideas (albeit with some indicating that they are already covering conscientious objection within their teaching) but they do seem to appreciate the alternative vision inherent in the PPU session. Also detected was some weariness with the continuing remembrance hysteria; hysteria epitomised by the disgraceful Sainsbury's Christmas Truce advert. Hopefully we will be having some impact on what happens in schools, with pupils at least getting a chance to glimpse how things could be different.

The PPU is committed to building upon this initiative by facilitating an informal network of teachers interested in further developing anti-war and pacifist teaching and learning approaches and materials. If you are interested in being part of such a network contact the Peace Education Officer.

Peter Glasgow

Peace Pledge Union 1 Peace Passage, London N7 0BT. Tel +44 (0)20 7424 9444 contact   |  where to find us