Sometimes a slight is delivered purposefully and deliberately. But sometimes, more often perhaps, hurt feelings are the by-product of good intentions. Such a set of misunderstandings risks leading us into dangerous and disrespectful territory on the question of commemorating the first world war. The war is remembered largely as a tragedy rather than a victory. While the second world war has the benefit of central casting baddies—with skull and crossbones insignia and genocidal impulses—the first world war is the story of a family needlessly torn apart.
It is this narrative, in part, that has created the possibility that, as we remember the centenary of the war’s first shots, we will officially commemorate the dead of both sides. This move, reported in the Sunday Times, is endorsed by Andrew Murrison, the government’s special representative for centenary events, and is supported by the Canadian government, amongst others. It would mean the names of Germans being projected alongside the dead of England and the Commonwealth as part of a special remembrance installation.