Research by the British Council in the UK and six other countries reveals a widespread lack of understanding of the global scale and impact of the First World War.
John Worne, the British Council’s Director of Strategy, said: “Our research shows that the things we in the UK know and remember the most from the First World War are the harrowing images and iconic stories from the Western Front – and rightly so. But we shouldn’t forget that the war touched many other parts of the world. Far more countries fought and were affected than we generally think. Even a hundred years later a person from the UK travelling for business or pleasure will find the war still influences the way people overseas view the UK. So knowing a little about the global reach of the conflict and its lasting effects will help anyone better understand and navigate the many different reasons people from other countries see us as they do.”
The report, Remember The World As Well As The War, shows that knowledge of the conflict - which began 100 years ago this year - is largely limited to the fighting on the Western Front. In the UK, less than half of the 1081 people questioned are aware that North America (38%) and the Middle East (34%) played a part in the war, and less than a quarter are aware that Africa (21%) and Asia (22%) were involved.
Almost three quarters of people (72%) across the seven countries surveyed believe their country is still affected by the consequences of the war.
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Why is the British Council marking the First World War Centenary?
The First World War was a truly global conflict; the world came together for destruction. 9.5 million combatants died, 20 million were wounded. There were at least 6.5 million civilian deaths.
As the UK’s leading cultural relations organisation, supporting understanding of the global nature of the conflict and its legacy is central to the relationship between the UK and other countries.
The First World War is often overshadowed by the Second. But it was the First World War which ended three empires, triggered the Russian revolution, and created the complex dynamics of power in the Middle East. World War One led to the first efforts to establish global governance. It is the crucible of international politics today.
What is the British Council doing for the Centenary?
We are putting together a wide and varied programme of activities for audiences in the UK and around the world.
One thing we have already done is published our report, Remember the World as well as the War. In our research, we surveyed thousands of people in seven countries to explore their understanding of the First World War.
I was interested to discover that perceptions of the UK around the world today are still influenced by Britain’s role in the First World War. For instance, about one in three of respondents to our survey in Turkey stated that the UK’s role in the conflict had a broadly negative effect on their views of it today.
Understanding the reasons for perceptions of the UK is at the heart of our work here at the British Council.