Saturday, November 03, 2007

The Lessons of History

In 1945, as the Russian armies were closing in on Berlin, Joseph Goebbels found time to pen a piece entitled “History as a Teacher.” If he proposed showing this to his Fuhrer, one wonders how he would get around his boss's myopia over Napoleon and his precipitate retreat from Moscow.
But, inasmuch as we should learn from history, he was undoubtedly correct. And the British troops now struggling in Afghanistan might reflect that perhaps their leaders would have done well to read up on the history of the North West Frontier.
But unless it is as accurate as possible, history can be valueless. The further we go back in time, of course, the more difficult this becomes. Personally, I've always had my doubts about the legionnaire who jumped ashore during Caesar's invasion of Britain crying allegedly:
“Jump down, comrades, unless you wish to betray your eagle to the enemy. It shall be told that I at any rate did my duty to my republic and my general.”
It sounds too much to me like the work of a contemporary spin doctor, probably Caesar himself who was an early practitioner of the art.
But with recent events, there should be no such doubt. Unfortunately, popular media has not proved to be too fussy when it comes to facts, patriotic jingoism often being allowed to distort the truth.
Hopefully, a new documentary movie, “In the Shadow of the Moon,” the story of NASA's moon landing, will prove otherwise, although I'm not too optimistic.
To me it was a magnificent achievement, although I must admit to having doubts as to its value to man, but as an example of technical achievement and personal courage, it was of the highest order.
But perhaps NASA, who tend to forget their beginnings, might pay tribute to Wernher von Braun, whose dream it was to put a man on the moon, long before the rest of the world, other than Jules Verne, had even considered it.
Von Braun, captured at war's end and hastily de-nazified pro bono US publico so he could work for them, provided the technological leap into space as he had done with the V2 rocket.
And let us not forget the thousands of slaves who laboured in the Hartz mountains at the Mittelwerke plant, and died producing these early rockets, a fact that must have been known to von Braun, especially as one of the de-nazified colleagues working alongside him at White Sands for the Americans had been the works manager there.
America's success in space has a legacy of blood and horror which should not be forgotten.
Come to think of it, my parent's had the roof blown off their house in 1945 by one of von Braun's missiles.
I suppose that was their contribution to the moon landings.


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