Visiting the Imperial War Museum: Part II

June 28, 2017

Here’s the second instalment of the KCA trip to the Imperial War Museum, read the first here.

The IWM’s current major exhibition is “People Power: Fighting for Peace”, exploring how peace movements have influenced perceptions of war and conflict from the First World War to today.


Starting with the  First World War, the exhibition looks at conscientious objectors and how they risked facing hostility and abuse through paintings, letters and artefacts. From here the exhibition moves into the Second World War. There were thousands more conscientious objectors during this conflict and the show tells this story, exploring the different struggles they endured for their anti-war cause and some of their non-combatant roles.

The Cold War and threat of nuclear weaponry makes up a substantial portion of the show, and it’s here we first encounter one of the most iconic images in the world: the CND sign. One of the cases tells the story of how Gerald Holtom created the sign, an early sketch revealing how it is based on the semaphore for “N” and “D”- standing for nuclear disarmament. The sign has grown from its original use and has become the international symbol for peace and featured prominently throughout the rest of the show- featuring in a wall of peace posters from the Sixties, placards against the Vietnam War and a section about the Greenham Common Women’s Peace Camp.

From here the Fighting for Peace story is brought up to date with a room telling the story of recent conflicts in North Africa and the Middle East. Highlights include powerful photography from “The Day The World Said No To War”- the day in 2003 when mass marches happened across the world protesting the planned US invasion of Iraq, objects from Brian Haw’s almost-10 year long peace camp in Parliament Square, and the famed photomontage of a grinning Tony Blair seemingly taking a selfie in front of a huge explosion in the desert.

We really loved the graphic imagery of the exhibition, from the protest banners, placards and posters to engagement points and our favourite- an enormous mesh wall with a graphic of the Labour Party’s 1935 “Stop War! Vote Labour” election poster of a baby wearing a gas mask  (see below).

“Stop War. Vote Labour” election poster graphic from 1935

The exhibition tells an inspiring story of people coming together from across the world but does also show how little has changed between conflicts. Perhaps the best summary can be found in the Telegraph’s review, “People often talk about the futility of war. Depressingly, the same could be said of the peace movement, too.”

The exhibition is open until August 28th.

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