A Haunting Past: British Defence, Historical Narratives, and the Politics of Presentism

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Abstract

This article examines historical fictions as social processes by which ideas about conflict and warfare are constructed and narrated within society. Focusing on Britain, it explores ‘truth telling’ about the past in an applied context, examining efforts to construct and sustain narratives about Britain’s military past and their role in upholding forms of political and societal consensus that underpin the development and use of military power. We offer a typology of the ways in which Western liberal states shape and mobilise historical fictions within their distinctive forms of militarism and civil-military relations: ‘Telling stories’—curating and sustaining of social understandings of military power through public displays, museums, and ceremonies; ‘Hiding Pasts’—using state power to shape academic research and to occlude aspects of the military past; and ‘Knowing War’—legitimating the state and armed forces’ claims to a monopoly of authoritative knowledge about war and security.
Original languageEnglish
JournalCambridge Review of International Affairs
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 12 Sept 2023

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