Monday, December 08, 2008

Empire Fail, LOL

The Aaronovitch Watchers direct our attention to this piece by mobile mid-life crisis Andrew Anthony, in which he considers the news that, around sixty years ago, Barack Obama's Granddad was imprisoned and tortured by the British authorities in Kenya.

I'll ignore Anthony, who uses the story as an excuse to bash a) evil African dictators and b) unnamed persons suffering from liberal guilt - what interests me are the commenters, a couple of whom lament the awful PC liberals who are forever doing down Britain's glorious history and sucking off tyrants.

Well, if straw men are good enough for Anthony and company, they're good enough for me, so I'll ask you to take me at face value when I say I've heard the following assertion in certain quarters, from conservative commentators in newspapers to blokes down the pub... The belief that young Britons are indoctrinated with anti-British ideology from an early age, coached to believe that our dastardly deeds outweigh the crimes of nefarious foreigners.

I'm in a good position to deal with this contention, as it happens - I was taught modern history right up to the age of 21* in a country whose politics were dominated by the left, all the way down to the PTA. If you were looking for a part of Britain where the curriculum was being set by the dreaded socialists, this was it.

Despite being educated in the late 20th century - ground zero for the infamous Political Correctness - I don't remember being walked through the crimes of the British Empire. In fact, between the ages of five and twenty one, I don't recall ever being taught about, say, the potato famine, the Mau Mau uprising, the British invasion of Tibet, the Croke Park Massacre or any number of nasty imperial misdeeds.

On the other hand, I was taught at length about the Reign of Terror, the genocide of the Native Americans, the liquidation of the Kulaks, the rise of Italian and German fascism and the Holocaust. I studied foreign warmongers and despots from Bismarck to General Franco. I read about the American annexation of Mexican territory, the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, the collaborators of Vichy France and Stalin's starvation of the Ukraine.

Not that there was no British history on offer, of course. I learned plenty about the industrial revolution, David Hume and the Scottish Enlightenment, 19th century laissez-faire economics, World War One (Germany's fault, just in case anyone was worried about liberal guilt there)... The rise of the Labour movement, the enfranchisement of women and the emergence of modern British society... All of it stuffed full of progress, industry and decency.

Given all this, you can imagine it all came as quite a shock when I finally got round to picking up a book about the history of Ireland or India.

Now, it could be that I'm a poor example because, if I'm being honest, I was a poor student who tended to ignore unappealing subjects if I thought I could get away with it.

On the other hand, I could be entirely typical of the period. Anybody care to offer an opinion?

(Just as a coda, let me note my opinion on complaints about anti-British sentiments in history teaching. Note the diagrams below...

Conclusion - the 20th century is over, and we lost. No need for a tearful wank** about it, though).

*And no, I wasn't held back in primary school for four years.

**"Tearful wank" - Humorous gesture directed at an upset person, made by forming a crying, boo-hoo gesture with one hand while sarcastically waving a loosely-clenched fist. Often followed by abrupt evasive action.

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