But what did we do in the war?

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The Independent Online
ONE of the most interesting questions about this week's D-Day media binge is how much the rising generation of children and teenagers absorbed and understood. It is impossible to answer accurately, but important to address, for it is precisely through such public ceremonies that potent collective experiences are passed down the ages.

My hunch is that the D-Day coverage, concentrating as it did on just one turning point of the Second World War, and the live events marking it, has generated a great deal of bewilderment because it lacked historical context. We have invited several post-war generations to watch the critical Act Three of the play, while expecting them somehow to pick up the complicated plot which led up to this dramatic venture.

Just because we know much of the story ourselves, there is no reason to suppose young people do. There has been a massive failure of imagination on the part of adults and communicators, who have not grasped the scale of their task, and have left part of their audience floundering.

The world has changed so hugely in the past 50 years that children and many teenagers simply do not comprehend the enormity of what occurred, of how the whole globe was convulsed. These are children who, despite Bosnia, would naturally assume that Normandy beaches are for paddling on, France the home of EuroDisney, and Europe the place for foreign language exchanges. When war happens it is localised and on the box.

This is not an attack on the professional efforts of so many journalists, programme-makers or newspapers. But in the midst of what verged on overkill, more simple, jargon-free explanation was sorely needed, as was more than a mere mention of Pearl Harbor and the efforts of the Russians in the East. Think about it. If you had relied on recent mass media coverage of the Second World War, you would have had a very lop-sided view: Schindler's List and the heroism of Liam Neeson, topped up with D-Day coverage, the taking of the Pegasus Bridge, and shots of old men with medals. It might help if someone exhumed the brilliant The World at War from the television archives, or made another. After this week, though, I doubt whether television is the right medium to impart facts and implant accurate knowledge of events in chronological order.

I arrived home on Tuesday to find my 11-year old in tears over her homework. She had been asked to write an essay on the theme 'What Happened on D- Day?'. Her tears were not provoked by the black and white images of dead and maimed young soldiers on code-named beaches, so hauntingly conveyed in Charles Wheeler's Turning the Tide, which we had watched together. They were tears of incomprehension, and they took me aback. What does the D of D-Day stand for, she asked. Who were the Allies? Why was President Clinton over here?

This was despite a day devoted to D-Day by her class, and a project on the Second World War conducted by the school last term, which I had supplemented by highly successful visits to the Cabinet War Rooms in Whitehall and the Imperial War Museum, with their evocations of the Blitz and conditions in the trenches.

We sat down and talked it over. It was then that I realised how the television coverage, in particular, had jumbled archive footage and live commemoration. We reached for a simple history book and the certainty of print. I hope that next year, when the end of the war is celebrated, these points about communication across the generations are not forgotten. Why doesn't the BBC commission Charles Wheeler to write a pared-down history of the Second World War and ask John Leslie to narrate it?

NOEL EDMONDS is the star of a grisly coffee commercial in which he rings people up out of the blue to tell them they've won a cash prize. Surely it's a foretaste of what the National Lottery will bring to the screens in November, once the live draws start. I find myself oddly at one with Baroness Thatcher on the lottery (well, I share her Methodist anti- gambling upbringing). Did we really need to catch up with the rest of the world in this way? Weren't bingo, the pools and straightforward betting on the gee-gees - all of which require a degree of participation and even knowledge - good enough?

My hostility has grown since the contract was awarded to Camelot. Estimates of how much people willbet, pounds 4bn a year, pounds 5.5bn at peak, seem wildly optimistic: a first flush of enthusiasm may well drain away. But if there had to be a National Lottery, then to bring in the doubters like me it should have been non-profit- making and tax free, and divided the spoils fairly between the punters and charities: Richard Branson's instincts were entirely correct. The proceeds should also have gone to specific big projects, not through the labyrinth of public bodies. I am underwhelmed.

Further, there are many of us out here who manage to lose tickets, whether for simple raffles or dry cleaning. Now we have another one to worry about. Doubtless, this theme, of lost tickets and lost fortunes, is even now about to enrich our popular culture by being written into Coronation Street.

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