Before several recent films, I have seen the trailer for Passchendaele – a film that seems to provide a heroic and pro-Canada take on this WWI battle. If anything, this actual history of Passchendaele demonstrates that war is rarely heroic, and that many narratives of heroism are self-serving for those that generate them. Both sides were fighting in defence of imperialism. Furthermore, the battle served little strategic purpose. After being taken at huge cost of lives – nearly one million killed, wounded, or captured on both sides – the terrain was abandoned so the Allies could respond more effectively to the German Lys Offensive.
Of course, Passchendaele joins a large collection of films of dubious historical quality. While I have yet to see it, the trailer is guilty of mindless patriotism, historical revisionism, and perhaps the Aragorn Fallacy. It would behoove us to remember a few key things about WWI: that the war was hugely costly in lives and suffering, that none of the major powers participating got the outcome they wanted at the outset, and that it ultimately did nothing to address the imbalances in Europe caused by the unification of Germany. Of course, films that highlight such things are unlikely to be blockbuster smash hits.