Friday, February 02, 2007

Selective History

The other day I swore a mighty oath that I would not read the London papers since they were too depressing. Well, it wasn’t really a mighty oath, more one of those every day, run of the mill sort of affairs and, naturally, I soon forgot it.

Another error on my part, since it is impossible to mistake, if the media is to be believed, that the mother country is in free-fall without a safety net in sight, if one excepts the verbal hot air cushion of Mr. John Reid.

I have always believed that the British should campaign to have self-denigration included as an Olympic sport. It would give them every chance of a gold, I’m certain, and an edict by the Minister for Education has reinforced this.

For now, schools have been instructed to teach the history of the British slave trade and its part in the growth of the Empire. Actually, I thought history had been abolished from the school curriculum, but once again it seems I was wrong.

It is, I suppose, part of the ‘multi-cultural’ obsession with the present government. It infers that, as well as inventing the steam engine, the railway, the cavity magnetron and penicillin, Britain invented slavery.

Mr. Johnson, he of the ministerial portfolio in question, might also suggest that students be asked to take a look at Greek, Roman, Egyptian history to say nothing of Portuguese, Spanish and a smattering of Aztec, to get a more rounded view of the history of slavery.

And however reprehensible the subject of the British slave trade might appear, it had nothing to do with government nor with empire building. It was a purely commercial arrangement between the big businessmen of England, who needed a supply of cheap labour for their overseas enterprises, and the big businessman of Africa, who found that by trading their fellow beings, they could make a healthy living out of the business and who did so without scruple.

I lived for many years in the West Indies and count as my friends a good many of the descendants of former slaves. Indeed, my wife is a direct descendant of one such family.

Those who were involved with the slave trade were not building an empire, they were building their personal fortunes, rather in the manner of the present government, it seems.

Mr. Johnson said: "This is about ensuring young people understand what it means to be British today. I want them to think critically about ethnicity, religion and race and assess our modern-day history through the lens of our recent past."

Well, Mr. Johnson, it might be better to concentrate on glancing through the lens of the immediate past, that of the administration of which he is a member and to tell the schools to teach history as a subject, not as a sound bite provided by a spin doctor.

Edward Gibbon took a good many years to write ‘The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.’ A future Gibbon will have a much easier task, since he need concentrate only on the years of the Blair administration to write his ‘Decline and Fall.’


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