The Historic Significance of Underwater Heritage from WWI
Underwater cultural heritage from World War I is a special witness of history. It has yet been little visible, little researched and little understood. The written naval history of the First World War tells about fights, strategies, technologies and power. It talks of courage, of patriotism and of bloody warring. But the wreck sites filled with the remains of those who fell in the battles tell us also a different tale. Many of the wrecks are grave sites. The reports of the sinking ships or of the recovery of the dead talk of an immense suffering and of grief, they are a call for peace. The visit to these ancient wrecks today tells us even more. They remind us that war is a result of politics, but results itself in people who die, families who are separated, in young men perishing. They remind us of mothers losing their children, young men their hopes and future and whole generations their up-spring and happiness.
Heritage calls for peace and reconciliation in telling us the human tragedy of war in each of its single tales.
The heritage of World War I can hence tell a missing part of the true story – the story as it was felt by the average man or woman. Stalin said cynically “One death is a tragedy; a million is a statistic”. But heritage helps to avoid that human beings ever become statistics and allows remembering each story, each life and each death. Heritage allows to feel and to understand. It brings the emotions of the victims of a battle or a conflict back to us in a touchable and touching way.
Touchable heritage sites and artefacts are an more impressive proofing tool to what happended in the past. While accounts are written by a society in its time and with its understandings and influenced by the views of the winning parties, heritage is a more unbiased witness. History books tend to forget voices of people not in a superior or ruling position, or voices that are not of use in a political discourse - the voices of women, workers and minorities. They also tend to forget the stories of daily life, of suffering, of loss or anxiety. This is especially true, when at a closing of a war the next and even bloodier one is prepared, as in the case of World War I.