On May 30th, our group took a drive into the Belgian city of Ypres where we visited the museum that now inhabits the reconstructed Cloth Hall. Personally, I had mixed feelings about the museum and its presentation of the conflict. The museum is made very dark due to subtle shades that cover the building’s windows. As you walk through the exhibits, solemn, dramatic music plays through speakers overhead. Each display features haunting descriptions of the many recovered artifacts and their uses, stressing the deadliness of each item. The central piece, to me at least, is the film which shows actors dressed in nurses’ and doctors’ garb, reciting letters and diary entries written during the war.
From my point of view, this was not the right approach. It seemed an almost satirical presentation of the war, like an amusement park haunted house. The film bore a striking resemblance to the show American Horror Story and seemed like it was trying too hard to invoke a sense of fear and uneasiness. While I understand that the war was deeply disturbing in many ways, I think there are more appropriate ways to convey this than dramatization of the horrors of war. To paraphrase the words of our guide Dr. Thomson, the war is already gruesome enough and there is no need to play that up. However, it was still an impactful place and, I think, a valuable stop on our itinerary.