With six months still to go until the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of the First World War, some people have already had enough of the expansive media attention being paid to the commemorations. Simon Jenkins of the The Guardian is one them.
The U.K.-based journalist and pundit took the British press to task last week for what he characterized as an orgy of adolescent, self-adulation over a war that should be seen as one of the most catastrophic tragedies in human history. What’s more, Jenkins lamented, the jingoistic tenor of much of the coverage must be particularly odious to one of his country’s closest allies – Germany
“[It’s] the British at their worst: sanctimonious, self-congratulatory,” he writes. “Germany may understandably prefer not to commemorate its 20th-century conflicts, despite the losses its people suffered. Yet it must put up with its conquerors rehearsing their victories, year after year.”
Fortunately, for those who share Jenkins’ bleak outlook on the Great War’s 100 birthday, 2014 will witness anniversaries for a number of other landmark historical events – ones that have nothing to do with the First World War. Consider these upcoming commemorations.
2014 MARKS ANOTHER MAJOR MILESTONE for Great Britain, and Scotland in particular — the 700th anniversary of the Battle of Bannockburn. The two-day clash between 10,000 Scots and 25,000 English troops in June of 1314 was the crowing victory in the Gaelic nation’s first war of independence. And to fully commemorate the event, the Scottish National Trust and Historic Scotland are making use of some decidedly 21st century technology. The Bannockburn battlefield’s newly refurbished visitors centre, which is located in the city of Stirling, will offer guests a fully immersive and experiential trip into the past using interactive 3D computer-modeled “characters” from the period. Each of the life-like likenesses represents a different participant in the historic battle. The animated figures, which were created using state-of-the art motion-capture technology, are modeled on modern-day volunteer models from across the U.K. Each one plays the role of a different figure from the struggle, ranging from high-born knights to lowly peasants. “Standing face-to-face with full height characters as they tell you their story is a powerful and natural way to learn about aspects of the battle,” said Chris White, one of the animators. “I think the choice of characters will be a pleasant surprise as it includes a truly fearsome local alewife, and an alluring female spy.” Also on display will be a series of animated CGI maps that recreate the battlefield down to the last detail. The new centre opens on March 1.
THIS SUMMER WILL ALSO SEE the conclusion of two-years’ worth of War of 1812 bicentennial celebrations in North America. The minor conflict is little more than a footnote to British history and still one of America’s least-known wars. Yet the two-year-long struggle, which was fought largely in and around the Great Lakes, has long been a source of pride in Canada. Having helped repel repeated U.S. invasion attempts over three summers of hostilities, Canadians would go on to idealize the war and look upon it as the de facto birth of their nation. Since 2012, Ottawa has bankrolled battle reenactments, one slick looking graphic novel, renovations of historic sites associated with the war and the production of a multi-million dollar television ad campaign. This summer will mark the 200th anniversary of key battles at Chippewa and Lundy’s Lane, the siege of Fort Erie and, perhaps most significantly, the British burning of Washington. Peace between England and America was finally concluded over Christmas in 1814, but the war’s largest battle would be fought at New Orleans more than two weeks later. The commanders on both sides were unaware that the treaty had been signed.
FOR THREE YEARS NOW, Civil War enthusiasts throughout the U.S. have been commemorating the 150th anniversary of the bloody War Between the States. Last summer saw an epic reenactment at Gettysburg; 2014 will mark the sesquicentennial of the battles of Nashville and Atlanta as well as the deadly Wilderness Campaign and the siege of Petersburg, among others. The commemorations will conclude in early 2015 with a ceremony marking the war’s conclusion at Appomattox Virginia.
BACK TO EUROPE NOW, and it was 200 years ago this spring that the French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte was chased into exile on the tiny island prison of Elba after a series of battlefield disasters that brought a coalition of enemy armies to the very gates of Versailles. Of course, any commemoration of the end of the Napoleonic Wars in 2014 is merely setting the stage for the much anticipating bicentennial of the Battle of Waterloo, which will take place in Belgium next summer.
AND LET’S NOT FORGET the 70th anniversary of the Normandy invasion, which will be commemorated this coming June 6. While this year’s events will likely not be nearly as grandiose at the 1994 50th anniversary of Operation Overlord, the upcoming ceremony will certainly be a moving one, especially in light of the rapidly dwindling numbers of living World War Two veterans. Already Queen Elizabeth II is expected to be on hand in France for the occasion. D-Day observances will of course be followed later in 2014 by recognition of the platinum anniversaries of the invasion of Saipan, the liberation of Rome, Operation Market Garden and the Battle of the Bulge, among others.
IT’S A SAFE BET THAT LITTLE IF ANY news coverage will be devoted to the 250th anniversary of the Battle of Buxar, a decidedly lopsided affair fought in October of 1764 between troops of the British East India Company and the Mughal Emperor. More than 40,000 of Shah Allam II’s men took on 7,000 company men. While the British suffered nearly 25 percent casualties, nearly half of the Mughal forces were wiped out or captured. The defeat effectively crippled the Mughal ruler and gave Britain a greater share of India. And finally, 300 years ago this August, the newly-established Russian navy won its first major victory at the Battle of Gangut during what is known as the Great Northern War against the Swedish Empire.