Standing up for history

To The Sunday Times

In 1960s Oxford I would see Cecil Rhodes’s statue, think how wrong he was and walk on. That is life in an open, tolerant country: bits of our history are sticking up everywhere, and we are free to admire, condemn or laugh at them. I prefer that to a country in which public art has to conform to a prevailing ideology.

Mike Lynch, Cambridge,  (The Week. 7 September 2019)

Well said!  As an historian I am aghast at the petty and narrow-mindedness of people who claim to be educated, but want to expunge the memory of those they don’t fancy.

Historians have to study large numbers of people whose views and actions are anathema to them. I spent a year on Germany and Hitler, and the Second World War.  Disgusting mass murderer, Hitler, but he is nonetheless part of history, and he rose to power for a reason.  Were we to expunge him from the history books it wouldn’t surprise me to learn that over-delicate students then refused  to learn about Stalin, Pol Pot (who?), Mao and others like them.

Cecil Rhodes was not a nice human being, but he is a fact.  Get rid of everything that reminds you of conquerorsand mass killers,  and public memory of them fades. Look around the world at the current number of ruthless would-be dictators and their enablers, and remind yourself of the chronic ignorance of history among the enabling populace who display an indifference to long- existing institutions.  There! You have your answer.  We are doing it to ourselves.

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