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  • Lawrence Bailey

History requires the full story

It’s said that history is written by the winners. It’s also used selectively to support a particular argument. As such, you rarely get the whole story, never mind both sides.

I recently noticed how someone who firmly thinks that leaving the EU is a good idea, backed up that view by posting a photo on social media of the D-Day landings.

The caption suggested that Europe had forgotten what it owed to the UK. I’m sure the thought resonated with many people who feel the Brexit divorce bill is a bit pricey.

This take on history about being owed something manages to overlook a far less noble episode six years prior to the landings. That was when the British government sold out the people of the former Czechoslovakia to Nazi Germany as part of the so-called Munich Agreement. If you’ve never heard of it then look up ‘Sudetenland’ on Google.

That same British government was complicit in another treaty – Potsdam – which carved up post-war Europe, thus allowing the Soviet bloc to forcibly occupy a dozen previously free nations for the next forty years or more.

Given our notoriously whimsical reputation as an ally, it’s little wonder that several ‘liberated’ nations later show marked reluctance in supporting Britain’s entry into what was then called the Common Market.

As it happens, I’m just come back from one of those whistle-stop European tours. You know, “if it’s Wednesday then it must be Hamburg”, sort of thing.

I found no shortage of memorials to those whose lives were sacrificed crossing the Elbe or liberating Amsterdam or fighting on the fields of Normandy.

Those brave souls were there to combat regimes that viewed segregation, racism, and violent suppression as handy instruments of state.

What history teaches us is that such intolerance thrives whenever populist messages about the ‘enemy within’ become a normalised part of political dialogue.

It also spells out that when politics and politicians no longer seem relevant to the basic daily needs of society then the soundbites offering easier alternatives become more attractive.

The same individual I mentioned at the start also claimed the referendum result showed how “17.3m people can’t all be wrong”.

A last historical footnote from me is that an eerily similar number of Germans voted for Adolf Hitler’s NSDAP in 1933 which put him in charge of the Reichstag. Two weeks later he banned all democratic elections.

The rest, as they say, is history.


We’re all in a minority

I was recently challenged as to why I haven’t written anything on Labour’s current struggle with anti-Semitism. My answer is that I feel too much of a remote observer to comment accurately. A good few of those I know in the political sphere share that view. Maybe that’s part of the problem.

That said, establishing – and enforcing – an unequivocal Labour policy on anti-Semitism seems eminently achievable; even when the language involved is put under forensic scrutiny. The fact that the issue has dragged on this long suggests other agendas are at work.

I’ve have strong feelings about Israeli treatment of Palestinians. I have similar views about apartheid in South Africa, the oppression of Chileans by the Pinochet regime and the ethnic cleansing of muslims in Myanmar.

What’s important to remember, in my opinion, is that society is made up of minorities. Whenever we countenance the denial of equal rights to anyone on the basis of race, religion, language, politics, background or sexual orientation, we only make ourselves more vulnerable.

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