Sunday 5 June 2016

Gaps in our history

Every now and then I notice a gap in my bookshelf - Volume 5 of Winston Churchill's epic, 'The Second World War'.

One volume of a barely read series on my bookshelf is not there, and sadly that bothers me.  His entire series on 'World War One' isn't there at all.  There are a few other gaps which only a Bodleian sized Library could fill, and that's before you touch on archives and primary sources of 'history'.

Churchill wrote
History will be kind to me, for I intend to write it
Does he mean he will write the history books or does he mean his political success will eclipse others?  The nod to 'survival of the fittest' is, of course, part of the joke - it works as a joke because there is some unpalatable truth in it.

It's not surprising Winston Churchill echoes the prevelant world view of 'Social Darwinism', more fully expanded by British/European academics like Herbert Spencer, Benjamin Kidd and Karl Pearson in the early twentieth century.  It is a partial reading of Darwin's theory of 'natural selection', to later be read as 'survival of the fittest'.  What 'social darwinists' miss  is that any selection is dependent on a large pool on which to select.  Complexity and diversity is what is required for man (and, in fact, the world) to 'survive'.

History has been kind to Winston Churchill, but to properly understand history we need the whole picture.  To understand any war we need those 'untold stories', like the stories disabled soldiers, the enemy, the home front, of  women, the history of the conscientious objector, and countless others whose histories may be less visible.

It also places responsibility on our shoulders to champion and support others to have their voices heard.  History will be kind to the Victor and Historian, so we must be vigilant to document those histories which may otherwise be lost.  Afterall, our survival may depend on it.

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