Cities / Towns Visited: 1
Countries Visited: 1
Steps Taken Today: 21,195
Steps Taken Around the World: 149,205
Once more we strategically ate breakfast, and once more we headed out into the world to explore. Our first stop for the day: the Imperial War Museum. As we rounded the corner we were greeted by the imposing shadow of two large guns, which I will comfortably assume at some point had a giant ship attached to them. After passing our intimidating doormen, we entered into a foyer and were met with just as confronting a scene. From the ceiling hung a fighter jet and a missile that reached almost the full 4 storeys of the building, and at ground level a war zone journalists jeep, the mangled remains of a car which had lost a fight with a land mine, and a decommissioned tank peppered the way across the room. The first exhibit was an in depth look into the first world war, from the pre-war tensions in Europe, to the huge death toll caused by those attempting to fight an old school war with new school weapons (two things that most certainly don’t mix), all the way through to the aftermath of the war and its impact on soldiers coming back into the troubled times of the great depression. A special mention for the display dedicated to the women of world war one who fought for the right to stand with their brothers, fathers, lovers; to fight with their kinsmen; and help in any way, shape of form they could, despite only being allowed to when times became desperate.
The next two floors were filled with larger artifacts from the second world war all the way up to the present day; from the remains of a Japanese fighter jet from World War II; to an individual bomb shelter designed to give refuge to those left defenseless during sudden bombings in London; to the unrecognisable crumpled remains of a window from one of the twin towers after 9/11; all the way up to a recently confiscated suicide bombers vest, filled with countless ball bearings for maximum terror inducing destruction. The final exhibit was totally dedicated to the Holocaust and the atrocities of the concentration camps (mainly Auschwitz). With heart wrenching videos of interviews with survivors; an in depth run through of how innocent people were arrested and taken to the camps, right through to their genocide; to a wall filled with the faces of the Nazi leaders who were rightly tried and executed for their crimes against humanity, it was hard not to leave both distraught and disgusted. As we descended the stairs to the exit, I took a moment to reflect on all I had seen. In the face of such loss and pain it is easy to despair, but I choose to hold on to hope in the knowledge that there are people out there who will fight for the right thing, fight for our freedoms, no matter what it costs them. To all of the men and women who have fought, are fighting, and will fight, I am eternally grateful. In the end though, war is a terrible thing, and one that does not prove who is right, but rather who is left. History is written by the victorious, but we must also take a moment to remember the overwhelming losses suffered by those who did not triumph. For most of them, they fought for what they believed to be right and good, they fought for their country and their home, and most were simply pawns in a governmental grab for land or power; as they say: one man’s terrorist, is another man’s freedom fighter. A life is still a life, and we must not be desensitised to that because of our own grief. May we all take a moment to be empathetic to those who view the world differently to ourselves; only through empathy and compassion may we change the horrors of our world, and move away from the threat of repeating such acts.
Although pensive about all we had viewed, we were also hungry; thus we speed walked to our lunch plans. Now long before we had come to London we had discovered, and rightly decided, that we wished to try the offerings of a food stall that sets up near the hostel a few days a week; Yorkshire burritos (essentially a roast dinner, gravy and all, wrapped inside a giant Yorkshire pudding). Unfortunately though, despite arriving half an hour before their closing time, we found them sold out and packing down, and worse still, they would not be in the area again during our stay. Eventually we settled for po boys from a stall just down from them, which were quite nice, however as I’m sure you all know, when you have your heart set on something, no matter how good the substitute is, it will never quite measure up. First world problems, I know.
With the disappointment still fresh, we continued onto our final destination for the day; the British Museum. Now, before even seeing a single display, the building itself is something to behold, an enormous manor of stone and marble, pillars and all. Within, a plethora of artifacts dating back some 3–4 thousand years, from carved stone tablets and statues from ancient Assyria and Egypt, to the sculpture and ceramics of the Greek and Roman empires. The most interesting piece (and the one which initially drew our attention to visiting the museum) was the Rosetta Stone, an ancient giant black stone tablet written in three languages including Egyptian hieroglyphics and Greek; and the key to archaeologists and linguists being able to finally decipher the ancient Egyptian texts. The other display that caught my eye was a rather large display of clocks, pocket watches, and timepieces, spanning the last few hundred years, as well as other space and time related pieces, like astrolabes. Not only are they beautiful, I always find it poetic to look back in time by looking back at time. The fascination with time is something that has spanned millennia, and yet as a concept remains unchanged; a single fluid constant is an ever evolving world. After spending a solid four or so hours exploring, it was hard not to notice that the majority of the displays are not in fact from Britain at all, and begs the question, if all of these artifacts were returned to their respective countries (as I’m sure those countries would prefer) how much would, in fact, remain. I understand many of these pieces were brought back during the colonial period, when the Brits had control of a large portion of the world, but maybe its about time these treasures go home. Britain has so much ancient and interesting history of its own; surely they could fill the rooms with that.
So what are my final thoughts after such a confronting and enlightening day. When retrospectively viewing the errors of our ancestors it is easy to judge them harshly by our current standards, but we must do our best to consider their positions respective to their surroundings and times; and in doing this resolve to never allow the recurrence of their mistakes. We may be making strides forward, but there is still much intolerance in the world, and ever present hatred. We have come so far as a species, especially in the fields of science, medicine, and technology, but we are not superior to our forebears. Underneath it all, we are still the same flawed creatures who once believed the earth to be flat and at the centre of the universe; the same creatures who believed that every race was not created equal and should be treated differently as a result; and the same flawed creatures who still need to have warning labels to ensure that some of us do not use hairdryers in the shower. We must stay humble, lest our ideals be mocked by the generations to come.