People Power: Fighting for Peace
23 March – 28 August 2017
For its centenary exhibition, London’s military museum turns its attention to the history of pacifism.
Established while Britain was in the throes of the First World War, IWM London is completing its comprehensive picture of 100 years of conflict by detailing the stories of those have campaigned for peace throughout the ages. Drawing on more than 300 items – including art, literature, protest memorabilia and even music – the exhibition considers how the nature of combat has evolved from trench warfare to nuclear weaponry and the multitude of reasons it has met with resistance from society.
Split into four key periods, the display opens by examining the artistic reaction to the First World War with the fallen soldiers in Christopher Nevinson’s Paths of Glory echoing the words of Siegfried Sassoon's sardonic poem The General. This sets the scene for a collection of diaries and letters pertaining to the conscientious objectors of the Second World War, who were desperate to avoid a repeat of such atrocities.
The largest section of the exhibition deals with the Cold War and the threat of a nuclear apocalypse that dominated four decades, each with a distinct cultural mood. The original sketches for the nuclear disarmament symbol – designed by Gerald Holtom in 1958 – shed light on the origins of the sign that is now globally synonymous with peace and leads into an examination of the anti-establishment attitude it became associated with in the 1960s.
The continuing conflict in the Middle East is the main theme as the exhibition covers more recent anti-war demonstrations, including Brian Haw’s solitary and remarkably steadfast protest in Parliament Square. In this age, digital technology takes centre stage as a tool for creating thought-provoking media, such as Photo Op by Peter Kennard and Cat Phillipps, which sees Tony Blair taking a selfie superimposed against a backdrop of devastation.
After experiencing first-hand the horrors of the First World War, AA Milne set out on the path of pacifism before reluctantly accepting that military action was ‘a lesser evil than Hitlerism’. On display for the first time, a letter by the Winnie the Pooh author reveals his deeply personal experiences of war, while also outlining the struggle of conscience shared by so many of his generation.