Judging and remembering the past

The way we remember our history has always fascinated me, whilst doing my research on Bomber Command and of course the 19th, 18th and 17th centuries, one can see that sometimes we remember what we want, judge the past as how we want, judge it with a 21st century outlook and leave out what we don’t want.  Some historians even do it, and do a thing I regard as confirmation bias, where they find evidence that they want to find and disregard all else.  So this blog is, I guess, about the representation of History, but at the same time, answers the question can we judge the past?  My focus will be on Bomber Command as it is firstly a controversial topic, but also is what I did for my third year dissertation, and well, I have information on it I guess!

Bomber Command will always continue to be a controversial and difficult subject, and one which will always be debated by historians.  In recent years, remembrance has finally been addressed with memorials being built not only in London, but also in Lincoln.  The memorial built in 2012 shows greater acceptance and remorse of the losses.  One quote I used in my dissertation was by a man named K. B. McFarlane, who stated in his book John Wycliffe and the Beginnings of English Nonconformity that ‘some Lollards ‘lacked the spirit of martyrdom’…comes ill from those who have never been called to die for an unpopular opinion, such hesitation should be easy to understand.’  Why did I use such a quote in my dissertation, this man is talking about 14th century England!  Well the point is how can be put our judgement on our time that we have little experience.  We as historians can only read what we see in books or diaries or maybe hold items dug up by archaeologists, but we were never there, we weren’t in the skies, getting shot at, we weren’t trying to survive the plague, or were in battle trying to basically not die.  History can be used so often as a political tool, it is what Bomber Command was and is, Soviet propaganda for example portrayed it negatively and used it as an anti-capitalist statement.  It can be used to glorify the past as the Reich did in Germany.  I do want to put this question to you the reader, are we in danger of glorifying the past not, do we look at it through 21st century view rose-tinted lenses, and not through the eyes of those who lived as we ought and do we pretend to know what it was like to live then.

History is grim, it can be very dark, but at the same time it is interesting and there are points when you go that is so awesome!  But when you examine it properly, you realise that you are so grateful you live in today’s life, where we don’t have to worry about survival as much!

Now what do we forget then, I’ve talked about briefly history being a political tool, I’ve mentioned how it can be misused, but how can it be forgotten.  Well basically anything we don’t like, or contradicts modern thought or our own thought is left out.  Bomber Command for example was never a nice part of our history so we leave it out.  The men who have died during the centuries are all but forgotten.  Hundreds of thousands have died in war, but they are only a mere statistic to us.  I also think that the stresses of warfare on the public life, which is clear social history is ignored more; I think examples of PTSD can be found going back to pre-medieval times!  We have to ensure that all of history is remembered and of course is accessible to the public, and not worded in a way that can only be understood by some!  I think this is why museums have such a great impact in the public, they get history across to people, in a way that is understandable, they attract young and old.  I never wanted to do history because I read books by such and such an author, but because I visited sites, read information, have a Dad who was keen on history and used to tell me all sorts.  Therefore don’t ignore museums, visit them, volunteer and help out if you can.  I honestly do think History is really important to learn, and I personally want to encourage young people to get into it!

Therefore to conclude, I think we have to be careful of how we use and view history.  Never read a view from a historian and think it is fact, check it, read other books, and get a good broad picture of it.  But at the same time, be careful when you judge the past, we weren’t there, so try to see it through the person’s eyes.  And finally, I encourage you to go to museums, and to really engage with what’s being shown, but I think most importantly enjoy history!


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