Left Behinds

The anti-andrewsullivan.com. Or, the Robin Hood (Maid Marian?) of bright pink Blogger blogs.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Britain could teach Turkey a trick or two when it comes to historical airbrushing

If Turkey's to enter the EU and become 'one of us' they will need to learn more civilised ways of sealing shut the door to their skeleton closet.

As bestselling Turkish novelist Orhan Pamuk faces yet another court case for his outspoken criticism of the Turkish military, George Monbiot suggests in today's Guardian piece that the Turks might learn from the British approach to covering up historical atrocities.

While Turkey's public attempt to silence its best-known writer puts the massacres he's highlighting (the Armenian genocide in WWI and the killing of Kurds over the last decade) right at the forefront of national debate, we Brits have somehow managed to completely erase our own record of horrendous behaviour from our collective memories without the need of censorship.

Monbiot's two chosen case studies of British brutality that he uses to illustrate the point that the majority of Brits just have no idea of their own past, are shocking in that he's pretty much spot on. He blames patriotic historians and media moguls ('The men who own the papers simply commission the stories they want to read'). Undoubtedly true, but has government hypocrisy and coverup become in its commonness just too boring a cliche to interest even the most Liberal of Lefties?
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  • At 12:51 PM, Blogger Antid Oto said…

    Sure, and until it became slightly more well-known as a result of the historical parallels to Iraq, how many Americans knew the disgusting story of our occupation of the Phillipines? How many know much today about the Trail of Tears or the massacre at Wounded Knee? Or what about the history teacher in Japan who got fired for daring to contradict the the revisionist history that's taking over there? Link

    As you say, everybody blots out the ugly parts of their history. Just some do it more efficiently than others.

  • At 1:09 PM, Blogger Solomon Grundy said…

    Hm, I think in the U.S. the past 20 years or so have put a much greater emphasis on the more unpleasant aspects of American history. Kids today learn a lot about slavery, the slaughter of indigenous peoples, etc. It's pretty balanced.

    In the UK, there really is a kind of self-enforced averting of the eyes. The British tend to think of themselves (I think rightly) as polite and generous individuals. It was probably that very strong sense of national identity that allowed polite individuals back in Britain to ignore their complicity in the evils committed by their empire.

  • At 1:50 PM, Blogger Solomon Grundy said…

    I was coincidentally reading this article on the Guardian site last night, all about how England is "the country of Drake and Pepys, not Shaka Zulu."

    Uh, yeah, it was the country of Drake and Pepys. What Mr. Hastings ignores is that it simultaneously was the empire of lots of Indians and Africans and others, and now it is the united kingdom of all sorts of people.

    The only thing I agree with Hastings about is that it's not a good argument to say that the history of white Brits should be de-emphasized because it's boring or irrelevant. That just means it's being taught badly.

    British history should make room for colonial history not because it's more fun but because it's just as important to the historical development of the UK.


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