The war crimes of Syria’s conflict have been obfuscated and lied about on a vast scale and with great success, but they have never been effectively hidden.
Not hidden from those whose spells in regime prisons included torture and the possibility of execution, not hidden from those whose experience of regime bombardment was a little more than theoretical. Continue reading →
All nations look to their pasts, often as much as to their futures. National history combines elements of myth with the familiar, and provides stories which animate and galvanize. History can unify. It can awe. And the lustre of civilization past can obscure or beautify a present which is less edifying. Contemporary improprieties can be well hidden among ancient stones. Continue reading →
‘Public history’ is something of a misnomer. The degree to which history which can influence policy is ‘public’ is a difficult question. E. H. Carr writes in his What Is History? that, when he was working in a junior capacity at the Paris peace conference in 1919, all the diplomats and their staffs took extra care to empty their wastepaper baskets. They were thinking of the discussions surrounding the peace treaty after Napoleon’s defeat in 1815, and the history they used to inform their actions was a titbit of information about that time: that nefarious negotiators spied on their opposite numbers’ plans by going through their waste paper. Carr uses this to illustrate the fallacy of thinking one can ultimately ‘learn from history’ in a way which is total and all-encompassing. Each moment in time presents new and unique challenges. One cannot rely simply on knowing the past to know the present, or indeed to predict the future. Continue reading →
Lord William Bentinck did not hold office in British imperial service during the reign of Queen Victoria, but the offices he held before she ascended to the throne were significant; he was governor-general of India, the first to hold that office after the Charter Act of 1833 re-organised Indian governance. His attitudes and perspective can thus be seen both to foreshadow Victorian ideas of empire, and also, in places, to diverge dramatically from them. When Bentinck departed Britain for his first role in colonial administration, the governorship of Madras, which he occupied at the beginning of the nineteenth century, he expressed Enlightenment values pertaining to the universality of human nature: ‘Is not human nature everywhere the same?’ This belief was stiffly expressed but sincerely held. Continue reading →
Alexander the Great was a remarkable military commander. He was an impressive leader of men who experienced huge and undeniable success. His conquest of much of the Persian Empire is notable for its dramatic nature and for the rapidity with which that conquest was achieved. Continue reading →