London’s Imperial War Museum
Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 12th August, 2016
When I moved to London from Brussels, more than 30 years ago, I deliberately avoided going to London’s Imperial War Museum (IWM), as its name suggested to me a form of British jingoism that grated with my Quaker pacifism. But how wrong can one be! Older and (perhaps) wiser, I now recognise what an extraordinary treasure-house the place is, not just because of the amazing tanks, aircraft and other military equipment on show but especially because of the imaginative and varied displays in themed galleries, that are as much about peace, security and peace-building as about war, as well as featuring regularly changing special exhibitions. As this month I have for the first time been teaching a summer course in International Relations, at London University’s SOAS, I took the students the the IWM this afternoon, focussing on two specific themes: the Cold War years of 1945 to 1989 (or The War that Never Happened, as the Museum puts it), then up a flight of stairs to the artist Edmund Clark’s take on the War of Terror (sic) — the latter giving a creative and challenging view of such things as extraordinary rendition, Guantanamo Bay and the “secure houses” in which suspects thought liable to be radicalised were held in the UK in suburban dwellings of chilling blandness. The maquette of the area of the Berlin Wall around the Reconciliation Church (destroyed by the Communists in 1985) sent tingles down my spine, as I remembered all the forays I had made across the Wall, between West and East Berlin in the late 1970s, visiting Quakers and sometimes government officials in the DDR. There are many more fascinating exhibits to spend hours perusing, including one hall charting a century of War films, and there is even a children’s area where they can draw and write to develop their thoughts about what they have seen. Altogether the museum is a first-rate experience (free, of course), and it even has a decent self-service café attached.