The lessons of history’s silent majority

1 Jun

Potato and carrot pancakeWe’ve been having many discussions about the Second World War in our house recently, since L1 has been learning about it and has just finished a lengthy project, which she really enjoyed (yes, as did I, especially cooking the ration meals – illustrated here).

Some of our conversations – plus recent reads of mine and debates with friends – have really got me thinking about the way history is taught in our schools. I don’t mean the quality of the teaching – in L1’s case, her WW2 instruction has been exemplary, but I have written elsewhere about how lucky I think we are on that score.

What it is, is that in the syllabus there appears to be no acknowledgment that in the case of WW2 it was the actions of the few that led to life-changing horror on every side of the conflict, not just in the UK. This seems to be to be a message that is alive throughout our history – ancient and recent – and is prominent in these times in which we’re living.

I’ve just read Markus Zuzak’s incredible The Book Thief, in fact I read it some months ago but it’s so fresh in my mind because of it’s impact that it feels like I read it more recently than I actually did. The recounting of one girl’s personal experiences and tragedies in the midst of the macro tragedy that was starving terrified Germany ruled by a lunatic in the run-up to and during WW2 starkly, beautifully and devastatingly outline that there were all the other general populations of all the other countries fighting during those years undergoing the same unspeakable horror we were. The Allies’ actions, vitally necessary as they undoubtedly were, led to the same howling terror of night air raids and crushed cities for the general population as they did in our country too.

It is important that the undeniable achievements and bravery – which continues today – of our armed forces and civilians on the ground forced into untenable circumstances and practicing survival are highlighted. And it makes sense that the focus of what happened to the ordinary population – and how the ordinary population not only survived but became extraordinary in those horrendous, heart-breaking times – is on what it meant to the UK. By doing this it is easier to make it real, and more memorable, especially when told from the memories of our very own relatives, friends and kind people prepared to share their stories with our children, to make the events they underwent part of our children’s memories in the hope – and I do hope this – that lessons of the blessings of peace can truly be learned. Living in Kent, by the side of the constantly targeted London to Channel coast railway, the devastation of the bombings in our local area have always been very real to me, and have become so for L1, visiting Chislehurst Caves and Jubilee Park, and hearing their histories, as I did.

I’m not trying to lead a crusade to redress this balance except quietly in my own home. Whether for money or for religion or for oil or for territory or for any of the other legion reasons that wars are fought – be these wars blatant bombardments or undercover terrorism campaigns – I don’t want my children to think for one minute that the actions of a few leading these groups – whatever banner that few fight under – necessarily, or even ever, in the case of true evil and extremism – reflect the mindset of the majority. This lesson can be best taught, I believe, not by special focus but by including the message in the subjects taught as part of our current curriculum. Tolerance and understanding are qualities that are becoming increasingly important, so we have to start getting the message across while the next generation are young.

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