I hated history lessons at school, with a master droning on about events in nineteenth-century English politics that seemed so distant and irrelevant. Why is historical knowledge so vitally important? Simply, historical knowledge is an antidote to ideology and manipulation.
It is often quoted that history is told by the victors. To the victors go the spoils of war, including historical knowledge. Where do we get our historical knowledge? When I was at university, my church history professor emphasised the importance of comparing a number of ideologically opposed sources and working out one’s own synthesis. We find the same difficulty with the events of our own days in the Middle-East, Russia and Ukraine, the role of American imperialism and the fast-dissolving European Union faced with the migrant crisis. Is there a coherent conspiracy? Some say there is a fixed agenda of some kind of Orwellian one-world dictatorship or bureaucracy. Alternatively, are we in a world of chaos which only be to the advantage of the dark forces and spirits, the ancient enemy?
If we heed some opinions on the internet, we seem to be at the dawn of a bad era involving war, chaos and the collapse of what little is left of post-Renaissance civilisation. Are there precedents, for example the end of the eighteenth century, the Industrial Revolution and Romanticism? I am in two minds, because I find it difficult to “feel” with that era.
We all try to contribute something to our understanding of the past: its ideas, politics, culture and minority movements. Most men of the early nineteenth century were not Romantics, but pushed for the grandiose world of rationalism, science and technology. The Romantics sought a different vision, as their descendent did also at the end of the nineteenth century and until the hecatomb of World War I.
Our world has been changed and innocence has been destroyed by the two wars. Only devastation remained coupled with supreme pessimism and nihilism or a new inspiration to rise from the ashes. I continue to read as much as possible, from the greatest diversity of sources and points of view, see documentaries, discuss and learn from academic historians. I have no doubt that Dr William Tighe would add his grain of salt, since he is an academic historian. I am deeply obliged to him on account of the fascinating books he keeps sending me. How do we get as much objectivity as possible? Read, read and read.
Each of us has to question ourselves and our certitudes, admitting that we can be seriously mistaken, in our beliefs and assumptions. We have a duty to be historians, because a people without memory is a people without a future. Does that not ring a bell when we consider our current political ideologies and the absolute barbarism of fanatical Muslims like Al Qaeda and Daesh? Even our own philistines do not destroy historical monuments going back thousands of years!
The study of history is our duty to humanity, to ourselves and those we love, to our neighbours and those from afar. Knowledge brings us freedom and peace, well beyond conformism and the “politically correct”. Knowledge and the critical mind will not make us hate or seek to provoke conflict, because we are above the asinine dialectics and the noise of clashing ideologies.