London’s many memorials bear testament to decades of conflict — but one monument misses the mark.
In the “War Room,” Winston Churchill and other high-ranking British officials plotted out their victory in a haze of sleep deprivation, cigar smoke, and map-papered walls.
Now, the War Room is populated by eerie replicas of Churchill and his staff, eternally squinting at maps and glaring at communication equipment. Tourists troop through the memorial, pressing recorded tour guide spiels up against their ears.
As a fellow student pointed out during a class session, this memorial was the only one on our itinerary that attracted more tourists than student groups. In fact, it seems a bit like a war-themed amusement park stop.
Why is that? Regardless of your opinion of Churchill — and some are certainly bigger fans than others — any aspect of World War II is serious business, with up to 85 million casualties involved.
Other memorial sites we visited were somber. The Imperial War Museum had an entire floor dedicated to the media, contexts, and impact of the Holocaust. Its other exhibits present relics of the wars as (presumably) they were found, without any wax figures of famous prime ministers.
As a class, we found the War Room unsatisfying.
This, I think, is why: the War Room is framed as simple. There were hardly any mentions of the heavy casualties of the war, and no mentions of the Holocaust.
The War Room was a serious, important place, but the statues are almost cheesy. It presents WWII without the heavy contexts and information that is integral to any understanding of 1940s Europe. Unfortunately, the well-meaning memorial can lead people to focus on the role of Winston Churchill above any others.