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from Manchester Evening News 14 March 2002

The phiney warA phoney war
by Flic Everett

THE imagination is officially dead. We're no longer able to empathise with others' suffering by reading, or even simply thinking about what they went through. Hearing about pain and envisaging the misery for ourselves is no longer a valid way to explore humanity or learn the lessons of history.

Because now, it appears we're incapable of understanding horror unless it is re-enacted by Real People, who are pretending to be other Real People who actually did undergo agony.

The latest bid to "recreate" history -in the wake of Channel 4's The 1900 House and the 1940s House - is The Trench, a BBC "real-life documentary", which features volunteers - clearly as eternally hopeful as the original, doomed volunteers of 88 years ago attempting to relive the conditions of trench warfare on the Somme during the First World War

So for them that means mud, rats, rain and sleep deprivation due to loud bangs. Those, howevez will be courtesy of the BBC sound effects department - not the volleys of sniper fire that would have greeted the real soldiers. These TV volunteers will also miss out on another crucial aspect of trench warfare - the knowledge that they may never see their families again, the gut-clenching terror of their own imminent death, and the realisation that most of their friends and colleagues would almost certainly be decimated by bullets before their 20th birthdays.

Suggesting that the reality of trench warfare can be recreated with a little timed discomfort and a few rats is like attempting to recreate the slaughter of 6m Jews 30 years later by asking eager volunteers to wander the streets of Vienna wearing a Star of David.

It proves nothing, because the threat no longer exists. This flawed enterprise is simply a ratings-hungry repackaging of History Lite; the past for the gnat's-attention-span MTV generation. The documentary apparently includes testimonials from the remaining survivors of the trenches; and commentary from historians - but this isn't considered interesting enough. These people were actually there, they know exactly how it was but sod it, they're old!

We evidently want funky soundbites, and brief insights into what mud feels like to a guy who's never fought in a war and never will, or how a bloke, who thought being on TV would be a laugh, got scared when he saw a BBC prop-department rat 6ft away.

This doesn't bring history to life, it devalues humanity. This stupid attempt to "recreate" an experience that, by defmition, never can, and never should, be recreated, is as tasteless and pointless as attempting to "recreate" Belsen, by refusing a group of volunteers food for a week (with a qualified TV nutritionist on hand, of course) and making them wear Camp-issue pyjamas. The soldiers of the trenches some as young as 14- died horrifically, in the naive belief that their deaths would count towards making the world a better place.

If they'd known that less than a century later their poignant sacrifices would be repackaged as real-life entertainment for idiots, who are so immune to terror they have to be spoonfed televisual slop, perhaps they might not have been so determined to exchange their tomorrows for our today

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Tuesday 14 December 2004