Report shows lack of knowledge about World War 1’s global impact
- Majority think the war only affected Europe
- Conflict still influences overseas views of the UK 100 years on
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.
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.
In terms of impact and legacy, while 62% of people in the UK are aware of the war’s connection to the rise of the Nazis in Germany, well under half are aware of its link with the rise of Communism in Russia (37%). Less than a third associate the war with the fall of the Ottoman Empire (32%) or the creation of the United Nations (27%). Only 11% are aware of the war’s connection with the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.
However, despite a lack of UK knowledge about the war’s global scale, the report also reveals the extent to which it still influences overseas views of the UK. 45% of people questioned in India and 28% in France and Russia say the UK’s role in the war has a positive effect on how they view the UK today. However, 34% in Turkey and 22% in Egypt say it has a negative effect.
Almost three quarters of people (72%) across the seven countries surveyed believe their country is still affected by the consequences of the war.
The report calls on the UK and the rest of the world to use the centenary commemorations to create a better understanding of the global nature of the war – recognising its ongoing impact on trust and understanding between the UK and countries around the world.
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.”
Lesser-known facts about the global scale of the war, highlighted in the report, include:
· Two products of the First World War are common reasons for distrust of the UK in the Middle East: The Sykes-Picot Agreement (1916), which paved the way for British and French control of large parts of the region; and the Balfour Declaration (1917), which led to the creation of the state of Israel and the resulting ongoing conflict with the Palestinians.
· Gandhi’s first civil disobedience campaign against British authority in 1919 stemmed from the unrealised hope that India’s contribution to the First World War of around 1.5 million men would be honoured with a transition to self-government.
· More than one million African auxiliary personnel were – sometimes forcibly – deployed in the war. About 100,000 died.
However, these facts are much better-known in the countries affected, and can contribute significantly to attitudes to the UK today.
The research for the report was carried out for the British Council by YouGov in Egypt, France, Germany, India, Russia, Turkey and the UK. In each country, between 1000 and 1200 people were surveyed in an online poll.
The British Council is working on a programme of activities throughout 2014 to increase awareness of the global scale and lasting legacy of the war – as part of its work building international relationships for the UK through education and culture.