Have you heard of the guy who has been “live Tweeting” the events from World War II? When I first heard about this, I thought it was some kind of joke. But there is an actual Twitter account that has been “live” tweeting the events of each day of the war. Hour by hour. Exactly as they happened 70 years ago. This is definitely an interesting concept, don’t you think? World War II involved most of the world’s nations at the time and claimed millions of lives. And it is now being broken down into 140 character bulletins. Right now, it’s early October 1939, and German bombs are shattering Warsaw.
The city is in flames, and its residents are out of food and clean water. “Human wreckage is laid on the table, the surgeon vainly endeavoring to save the lives that are slipping through his hands,” one nurse says of the scene. The other incredible thing about this is that this Twitter account is going to be busy for the next six years. @RealTimeWWII has nearly 500,000 followers. If you’re a history buff, this is definitely something you should check out. The account is run by Alwyn Collinson, a digital editor at the Museum of London. Collinson spent the last six years tweeting the war, too. He started in 2011 and it ended last month, but he wanted to start it all over again, which he did, this past September.
“It’s incredible to have hundreds of thousands of people reading and hundreds responding. I think it’s a shame just to walk away from that, though perhaps it would have been easier to do so.” Collinson said.
Collinson spends about an hour each day planning, curating and posting tweets. That’s a lot of time to put into this kind of passion project, don’t you think? I think this is great, but it feels like a lot of effort for something that is just retelling a story. When he’s preparing for larger scale events, like the German invasion of the Soviet Union, D-Day and the attack on Pearl Harbour, it can take him as long as 10 hours.
What helps Collinson, though, is the fact that World War II is one of the most well-studied, and well-documented events in human history. Collinson has countless books, newspaper archives, historical records and other sources at his disposal, which does make this a bit easier. Collinson also says:
“In many ways, it’s like trying to report on the news by years and years ago. I’m not just trying to get a sense of who invaded who, which cities fell when, but more of what people thought and how they were trying to make a narrative out of it at the time.”
Collinson got the inspiration after watching the events of Arab Spring play out across social media platforms in late 2010. Twitter was relatively new, which meant it was likely the first time people were using digital means (like Twitter) to announce, coordinate and document widespread political demonstrations.
Like I alluded to earlier in the post, Twitter users are finding more parallels between the events of World War II and the current political state of affairs. Some people react to the tweets with warnings or lamentations that the world is regressing to early 20th century ideologies. And is that so wrong? We can’t look at our current world through this lens, but it does have some similarities, which can make it difficult when trying to look forward.