Monday, 22 February 2021

STOP RE-WRITING HISTORY

During the lockdown a lot’s been written about sleep. Until recently I’ve done rather a lot of it without thinking about it. But now I’m sleeping less well with uneasy dreams full of historic regret. It’s all rather bizarre. I re-live innings I played in cricket and lament that rash shot I made 50 years ago or a presentation I made which I spoilt by making a casual remark which like an ink blot interrupted the clean flow or an argument that I shouldn’t have had. I wake up feeling guilty and tired.

Talking of historic regret I see university applications for History are in marked decline. I  understand why. There’s an increasing trend shifting from analysis and balance to blame. 

The first line of L.P. Hartley’s novel “The Go Between” (and later a film) was

“The past was a foreign country: they do things differently there.”

In my childhood there were no computers, calculators, hardly any TVs or household appliances. Children were regularly beaten at school and at home. Capital punishment was accepted as a norm for murder. We had amateurs and professionals in sport. Woman were second class. It was awful in retrospect but then it was just how things were. Doubtless in 50 years people will look back at 2021 and say it was terrible that so few women held top jobs and how lacking in diversity we were or will some freakish change of thinking lead us to be living in Gilead and The Handmaid’s Tale?

A Professor of Black Studies at Birmingham University, Kehinde Andrews, made himself rather unpopular with some people by describing Winston Churchill as a 'white supremacist' in a debate at Churchill College, Cambridge and saying modern Britain is 'based on racism'.  He also thinks the British Empire was 'far worse than the Nazis'.

Rather than frothing at mouth and dismissing what he’d said as nonsense, I thought he made some interesting points albeit in a slightly unfocused, hysterical way. The trouble with demagogues is I’ve never been able to take them seriously except in one respect. They set a poor example to the young in excluding the possibility of rational debate.

I found that moment in 2016 when the American Quarterback, Colin Kaepernick, first took the knee moving and extraordinary. Since then it’s become a little tiresome because it’s now become ritualistic not symbolic. 

If you don’t do it you’re accused of being “a silently complicit racist” which is rather silly. But not as silly as seeing people like Keir Starmer doing it.

The history of humankind is a mess. Should we demand reparation from Denmark, Norway and Sweden for damage the Vikings did to Britain in the 8th century? The Lindisfarne Raid of 793 was particularly nasty. Alcuin the scholar who worked with Charlemagne described how the ground was “spattered with the blood of the priests of God”. Or the French for the appalling way they treated us after the Battle of Hasting. Or the impudent Dutch for seizing the throne in 1689.

Some very nasty things happened in the past. We can’t change that. What we can do is study them and ensure we are cured of the instincts and practices that led to Lindisfarne (mind you, it might be interesting to take the Norwegians, Swedes and Danes to the European Court just to see the expressions on their faces.)

The history of the world is exciting. It’s crammed with progress;  full of good and bad things. If all we focus on are the bad things we are looking at and learning only half the story.

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