Magazine article The Spectator

Radio: War and the World Service

Magazine article The Spectator

Radio: War and the World Service

Article excerpt

There's a part of me that thinks OK, we've heard enough now, one year on from the beginning of the centenary commemorations, about the first world war. Do we really need any more programmes (on radio or television) about Ypres, Gallipoli, Akaba, Versailles, and the Western Front? Or are we wallowing in history's horror stories rather than trying to learn from them?

There's a danger that anniversary fatigue will set in and stop us pausing to think, to really contemplate, the reality of that terrible, catastrophic war and whether there is any way it can be prevented from happening again. But then events, as ever, take over, such as the violence last week in Tunisia, a random, though by no means isolated attack on innocent civilians, provoking many hours of fruitless, reacting-to-the-moment comment. Unanswered questions scurry through the brain, demanding attention. Does the attack on western tourists have any connection with recent foreign policy in America and the West, or are the reasons more deep-seated? Where does such nihilistic hatred come from? Do we need to delve further back into the treaties that were made at the end of 1914-18 to understand the Arab Spring, or rather the region's subsequent descent into nihilistic chaos?

At such times the World Service is the only resource worth listening to, because it gives us different voices, new experts, insider knowledge from reporters and commentators living inside the countries where these events are taking place, even if we need to bear in mind that what they say is filtered through the watchful eyes of the Corporation. As it happens, the network has been airing an 11-part series (made in association with the British Council) that has been looking at the first world war from this global perspective, travelling in the past year from Sarajevo to Delhi, St Petersburg to Dar es Salaam, and inviting a group of experts to debate the issues and answer questions from an invited audience. On paper it looked worthy but perhaps not the most exciting listen; yet another anniversary programme with very little topical relevance. But this week, the final programme in the series, The War that Changed the World (produced by Charlie Taylor), was recorded in the Library of Congress at Washington DC and focused on America's involvement in that not-so-long-ago war. The panel of experts, historians Jennifer Keene and Ross Kennedy, together with David Frum, the neocon former speechwriter to George W. Bush who purportedly coined the phrase 'the axis of evil', looked at the ways in which the decision made by the US Congress in April 1917 to enter the war in Europe is still having an impact now. …

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