In this, the hundredth anniversary year of the beginning of the War to End All Wars, two major art installations were commissioned and executed here in London. Both went public on the 4th of August, the date in 1914 when the United Kingdom declared war on the German Empire.
The first, and better known if only because it recently concluded, was the installation at the Tower of London of 888,246 ceramic red poppies -- one for each British Empire fatality during the war -- entitled "Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red".
In designing a torrent of red which swept outward from the Tower into the ancient moat surrounding its walls, artist Paul Cummin clearly understood the visual impact which would lead over 4 million visitors to view his work. Cummin is also arguably privy to a little secret about the poppy which Canadian medical officer Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, author of In Flanders Fields, also knew -- poppies grow where the earth is overturned, as with the digging of graves. For those in the know, this bit of horticultural insight transformed each brightly shining ceramic flower into a corpse, rotting unquietly beneath a hastily erected cross. For this reason alone, Cummin is my nominee for Artist Who Really Gets World War One.
I remember in 1998 arguing strongly against the Iraq Liberation Act because, as I said at the time, I knew it would lead to war. I did not oppose the Act because I was an admirer of Saddam Hussein – just as now I am not an admirer of Putin or any foreign political leader – but rather because I knew then that another war against Iraq would not solve the problems and would probably make things worse. We all know what happened next.