The concept of coming to terms with the past originated in post-1945 West Germany but such historical therapy is evident in all the belligerent countries. In that process, the two world wars are intricately connected, each seen refractively through the prism of the other. This article focuses on Britain whose national obsession with the two world wars is particularly acute. The first and second sections suggest that British public discourse has been able to construct a satisfying narrative of 1939–45 but not of 1914–18, meaning a narrative that has both a clear beginning, middle, and end and also a stark moral meaning. Viable narratives draw on the events themselves, the words used to conceptualize them, and the interpretations of 'instant' histories and memoirs. The third section argues that the elevation of 1939–45 in national discourse as our ‘finest hour’ (Churchill) has aggravated the problematic nature of 1914–18 for the British. In the wake of Brexit, the last section argues that Britain – unlike France and Germany – has found it difficult to move on from the era of the two world wars by locating these conflicts in a more positive narrative of the twentieth century as the eventual triumph of European integration.
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