Learning from history: “there was a chance to work things out in a different direction and it wasn’t taken…”

Michael Portillo’s two part radio work on the first world war is well worth grabbing for a listen. Part two is fascinating not least because it looks at the effects of interwar propaganda the widespread acceptance of the idea that the second great war was a general rather than a particular failing: a view brought under particular stress by source material which formed the basis of Griff nach der Weltmacht (Germany’s Aims in the First World War), published by the German historian Franz Fischer in 1961.

But the contribution which most intrigued me was this from Associate Professor Heather Jones of LSE (33.05):

What we see in the interwar period is the danger of myth making about a conflict, and particularly myth making to younger generations who were not a part of that conflict who then fed off the propaganda in the interwar years from the German right about the idea of Versailles as a shameful peace, about the idea of the German army being stabbed in the back.

And that’s where the danger lies. The interwar period is a moment when there was a chance to work things out in a different direction and it wasn’t taken. [emphasis added]

Now, I’m not suggesting for a moment that there’s a direct parallel with post conflict Northern Ireland, but there is definitely a battle ongoing over the basic facts of recent history, currently doing the rounds as the ‘two narratives’ model.

We might be advised to take better care that we are not just arming the next generations with their own sense of grievance rather than building a sustained and sustainable peace?


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