Most TeleRead readers should need no reminding that this year marks the centenary of the outbreak of World War 1 in 1914. Unfortunately, the UK government’s memory of that fact seems highly selective – not least when it comes to one of the UK’s most significant repositories of national memory concerning that conflict and war in general. For the library of the UK Imperial War Museum (IWM), itself refurbished this year at a cost of £40 million ($63.5 million), as well as other important research and educational services, are now threatened thanks to government cuts of up to £4 million ($6.35 million) in its operating grant.

Prospect, one of the main unions with members put at risk by the cuts, has launched a petition calling on George Osborne, the UK Lord Chancellor, to “urgently reverse current and future cuts to the UK Imperial War Museum’s annual operating grant in aid so that it can maintain services and preserve its standing as an international centre for study, research and education.” The petition claims that the IWM has drafted proposals to “close its unique library and dispose of the majority of its collection; cut important education services; cut 60-80 jobs; [and] close the widely emulated ‘Explore History’ facility in London.”

Despite its name, with its flavor of Victorian imperialism, the IWM has built itself a position both nationally and internationally as a major study center and research resource, not least for the social history of warfare. The union origins of the petition may not endear it to the current Conservative-led UK government, but a report from The Bookseller has confirmed that the petition’s claims are accurate, and the UK’s more conservative press also seems to be supporting the campaign against the government decisions.

Typical of the kind of initiatives the IWM is a focus for, the current “Let’s Remember Together” commemoration has assembled 6,888,850 “Lives of the First World War,” with an open invitation to the public to submit more. This and dozens of other projects would be lost if the proposed cuts went through.

At the relaunch of the IWM in July, Prime Minister David Cameron said: “When I launched our plans for the First World War centenary, I said the renovated IWM London would be the centrepiece of our commemorations – and what a fitting centrepiece it is. This wonderful museum succeeds in making this war relevant 100 years on – a national focal point in which we can all take pride and which connects the past with the present to ensure we never forget those who lost their lives to secure our freedom.”

Maybe it’s time for him to live up to that rhetoric.


  1. The UK is in a tragic death spiral. Fussing about this cut or that one misses the real point.

    The dole, shoring up of a NHS (that all now recognized as a disaster), and a host of other ills are costing so much that library budgets, once regarded as essential, are being cut both locally and at the national level. The latter are symptoms not causes. Even Scotland’s urge for independence was born when the Thatcher government refuse to keep alive dying Scottish industries.

    When I look across the Atlantic, I feel like someone in North Africa must have felt watching Rome’s slow decline in the second and third centuries. Even the cause—in Rome’s case often summarized as ‘bread and circuses—aren’t that different. Reward indolence and irresponsibility and your get more of it. Eventually the drones outnumber the worker bees.

    Perhaps the best illustration of what’s going on came when I read a book by a British physicist. His topic was science, but at one point he pointed out that what was once called the British working class was perhaps the only group in human history where parents did not want their children to better themselves. He didn’t say, but I got the impression that he’d escaped from that straitjacket.

    The cause? Read early twentieth-century Fabian intellectuals such as Sidney Webb and you’ll discover why. Laying the foundation for today’s Labor party, they were clear that their goal was not a working class with the independence of a middle-class. Home ownership was to be hindered and housing, provided by Labor governments, was to be offered in its place. If you’ve ever watch a British TV show where someone refers to “council housing,” that’s what the Fabians created—homes owned by a city council and rented below cost.

    The goal was dependency and a steady vote for the Labor party. I’m not sure if Labor party leaders realized that with that dependency would come a working class that didn’t like to work and prefer sports and getting drunk instead.

    That, however, has been the consequences. If the government is going to provide basic needs such as food, shelter, and healthcare, where is the need for a good education or for libraries?

    The UK isn’t the only one experiencing this trend. Charles Murray describes a similar trend in the US in his Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010.

    And if life to be lived just for the moment, what need is there to understand history? Have another beer and turn on the telly. A game is about to start.

    –Michael W. Perry, editor of Chesterton on War and Peace

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