A recent article springs to mind, about Neville Chamberlain. Remember him? The Prime Minister with the bit of paper? The revisionist writer tells us,
"I cannot sweep aside the stubborn realisation that Chamberlain’s misjudgement cost millions of lives"
Debate on contentious issues takes place in a historical context. It might sound obvious: people only know what they know at the time and they are influenced by their education, prevalent social mores and previous experience.
It came up again the other day with a predictably chaotic discussion (in the Guardian) about Christianity. Essentially, one thread of the putative "debate" was about historicity and whether or not Christianity had an influence on slavery, socialism, the NHS and the introduction of the tambourine.
For every one who pointed out that there were committed Christians at the heart of the emergence of Socialism (Keir Hardie for example, or the Tolpuddle Martyrs) or the Abolition of Slavery, there was a biteback post telling us that Christianity is responsible for all the evil in the world and that Slavery in particular was condoned in the Bible.
My point is that unless you have a clear understanding of historical context, your summation of important milestones in our social evolution will be worse than bad, they will simply bugger up our ability to cope with the future.
As for Chamberlain, his world was one with a daily reminder of the Great War. Burnt out and crippled men, trudging the streets looking for a job - great if you have the requisite number of limbs and eyes and an ability to cope with the occasional loud bang. (Don't forget, a hundred years ago we shot soldiers who had nervous breakdowns on the battlefield.) The Western world had no stomach for war. At the time, Chamberlain was paraded as a master of diplomacy.
Churchill was heterodox. Today, ironically enough, he would never have assumed the greatest office of state. Vanilla, he was not. He was, practically, a lone voice in the wilderness, who believed that war was inevitable. The general reaction was, "No, no, no, I'm not listening" In Cabinet, the reaction was that Churchill was dangerous and bitter. There were plenty of personal attacks on him and plenty of the powerful media barons who supported appeasement. All over free Europe, he was a hero.
No alternative to the policy of appeasement was ever consistently articulated in theSo, I think there has to be a mending of the disconnect between received wisdom - hindsight - and the kind of reality that stares us in the face. Without it, we cannot properly address the problems we face today.
press.(Richard Crockett, Twilight of Truth)