Politics and technologies of authenticity: the Second World War at the close of living memory

As the participant generation passes away, the current moment of Second World War cultural memory is suffused with a sense of an imminent ending and of our passing into a new phase of engagement beyond living memory, a phase which – so it is often held – will be the poorer for lacking the validating presence of first hand witnesses; it may even constitute a kind of closure. This essay takes this observation as a point of departure for a wider exploration of this contemporary landscape of remembrance which, it is argued, is peculiarly and multiply fraught with anxieties about authenticity. It begins by discussing how the steady disappearance of the participant generation serves as a foundation for this anxiety, looking at how it has helped to fuel particular sorts of mnemonic activity as part and parcel of a post-Cold War boom in Second World War remembrance. It then explores some wider aspects of that remembrance which are generating new concerns about authenticity and interrogating it in novel terms. Finally, it makes the case for what can be gained by viewing contemporary Second World War cultural memory through this particular lens and sets out a research agenda for the future.