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rethinking WW1 and WW2

The two global wars of the 20th century were cataclysmic events which transformed the international order and still shape the modern world today. They ended, respectively, over 100 and 80 years ago, and yet they continue to be remembered through received narratives which professional historians now regard as seriously outdated and misleading.

Broadly, these narratives were set in the decades following each war and then reinforced at successive anniversary commemorations. The image was established of the First World War as a pointless slaughter, the Second as an heroic triumph of freedom over tyranny – the ‘Good War’, as the Americans call it.

A First World War commemorative statue in bronze called The Homecoming showing a British Tommy returning victorious from the front.

Photo credit: 

The Homecoming ©

In the years since these conflicts, historians have quietly accessed previously closed archives, discovered fresh sources and developed new approaches. Every country’s world wars were first interpreted from a national viewpoint, but over time scholarship began to examine them through a trans-national, then a global lens. This changing perspective has transformed these wars, revealing how much the standard narratives have ignored, overplayed or simply got wrong.

Unknown Warriors offers two ten-part series that take an in-depth look at each world war in the light of the most up-to-date modern scholarship. Leading historians show that the reality of these conflicts is often far removed from the old narratives we’re more familiar with.

Created by

Michael Baker

Michael Baker

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Understanding History


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