The Great War holds a different meaning for every nation that was involved in it. Peter Stanley, Geoff Dyer and Maya Jasanoff joined Rana Chhina in the packed Mughal Tent here at the Zee Jaipur Literature Festival and in an absolutely riveting discussion tried to unravel these meanings and shed some light on the variety of memories left behind.
Geoff Dyer eloquently explained that there has been a ‘personalisation’ of the 1st World War for each country, giving the examples of France and Verdun, Australia and Gallipoli and Britain and the Somme. For Mr Dyer the War was “part of the living fabric of everyday life” whilst he was growing up, it was an integral part of British society.
In contrast to this Rana Chhina told us that the Indians involvement in both Gallipoli and the Somme has been “pretty much written out of history” and that the memory of the Great War in India is not at the forefront of the “nation’s historical narrative”. For Indians the historical narrative revolves around the freedom struggle, it is this loss of memory of The War that Mr Chhina is trying to uncover.
Peter Stanley neatly pointed out in reference to Mr Chhina’s point that The India Gate in New Delhi, is barely remembered for what it actually signifies; it is more of a monument than a memorial. Mr Stanley, an Australian historian and writer explained that the communal memory of World War One for Australia was one of nationalism, through it the nation developed towards independence. Australians were “obsessed with The Great War”.
Maya Jasanoff, who teaches about The 1st World War at Harvard in the USA revealed that Americans do not have a specific association with The War, they joined the war in 1917, and did not experience “the scale of loss” as the other main nations. Even though they were the force that tipped the balance, perhaps unsurprisingly therefore the war was much less nationally significant for them than the likes of Britain, France and Australia.
The theme lying behind this dynamic conversation was that the story of Indian involvement, although a massive contribution financially, militarily and in terms of labour, has not been told. The stories have not been asked to those left behind, the fact that India were fighting for the Empire and not themselves is perhaps the main reason for this lack of shared memory. As Ms Jasanoff put it, the history of The War must have a “breadth of inclusion” involving those on the home front, those left behind by this horrific war.
By Ivan de Klee @ The Jaipur Literature Festival
Causes of World War 1