Sunday, December 20, 2015

The Great War Exhibition

Local hero Sir Peter Jackson loaned his production expertise to this exhibit on the centenary of the First World War.
An immersive experience, you wander into the streets of Europe, past shops selling shoes and cheese. 
Interspersed with life-sized dioramas and replicas of weapons and uniforms are factual displays and propaganda posters. 
Each government took a different tack, some focusing more on loyalty, others preying on fear. 
Maps depict hundreds of miles of trenches along the German and Belgian borders. These barbaric tools are for hand to hand combat. 
Soldiers fought in damp, dangerous trenches for 3 years. The exhibits while immensely respectful—ANZAC soldiers including Maori troops traveled halfway around the world, serving bravely only to be massacred by the Turks at Gallipoli—never sugarcoat or romanticize combat.
Mustard gas was deployed, so soldiers wore gas masks. 
Dazzle was used as a form of camouflage by the Germans. I loved the notes about words that entered the vernacular because of WWI: bangers (because of their propensity to explode when heated if not pricked), snapshot, bonk, bloodbath, in the trenches, shooting yourself in the foot, and tank. 
Photos accompany the exhibit. They are colorized, which I'd normally object to, but they work in this context. 
There's nothing beautiful about war. And  promises of a short intervention belie history. 1914: home by Christmas. 
The map of Europe before the war resembles the board of Risk. 
I'd watched a few nights ago as a bunch of peace-loving young men from Germany, Netherlands, Canada, and the US merrily rolled dice over Iceland and Madagascar, the Middle East and Kamchatka. War games require a sort of cognitive dissonance. 
As Alex commented, maybe it's time to decolonize Risk. Tara mentioned there's a Lord of the Rings edition of Risk that she really enjoys. One ring to rule them all. 
We honor the dead by not blithely sending soldiers to die in elective wars, and not deluding ourselves that military campaigns are winnable or strategic. War is hell. There are no victors, only survivors.

More info:
And here's the related exhibit at Te Papa: