Remembering the past requires respect - Monocolumn | Monocle


A daily bulletin of news & opinion

27 August 2012

Scattered around the cities, towns, villages and hamlets of Great Britain and most of Europe, sit memorials to those who gave their lives in the First and Second World Wars. They have become so much a part of the fabric of our lives that we don’t always notice them. But take a moment to think and there they are. Monuments to the generations of men and women who never had the chance to witness the end of these conflicts. Lives taken early, names etched into stone.

Across the world, public monuments serve as quiet reminders of the tragedies and errors of our histories. They represent a collective consciousness, a desire to publically memorialise loss. At their best they become spaces to remember and reflect, they are simple but striking, and they cast an enduring message beyond our lifetimes.

But there are also those moments in history for which elegant memorialisation seems impossible. This year we have witnessed a deluge of Titanic proportions, from those wishing to reflect, or cynics would argue capitalise, on the 100th anniversary of the passenger liner’s sinking. Films re-released in 3D, new books published, a TV series, a memorial cruise, the list goes on. It’s an obsession that has been gathering momentum for decades. A Google search of the word “Titanic” produces 158 million results.

And just when we thought some of this hysteria was dying down, Australian billionaire Clive Palmer has announced plans to build Titanic II. Save for a few more lifeboats and an extra deck to allow the Captain a better view over the bow – lessons learned, apparently, from the first time around – it will be an exact replica of the original ship. Designed in Europe and built in China, Palmer’s team will base their plans on the original documents used to build the fated vessel which sunk into the ice-cold waters of the north Atlantic Ocean back in 1912. According to the billionaire 45,000 people have already expressed an interest in travelling onboard.

At worst this is a tasteless money-making exercise, at best a chance to re-live a moment in history. But let’s take a moment to remind ourselves of what exactly this means. Beyond the Hollywood romance of this infamous story, this was ultimately a maritime tragedy in which over 1500 people died. Would those same 45,000 punters keen on some Edwardian glamour be interested in living out scenes from other events where people lost their lives?

Around Britain and the US there are various memorials to those who were killed when the Titanic tragedy struck. These surely are the places where we should reflect on this loss. I for one think this feels more appropriate than an overpriced excursion on a novelty cruise liner.


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