History is what history is…
But, in some quarters, apparently not.
Increasingly, since the eruption of the Black Lives Matter movement which is sweeping much of the world, the cruel death of George Floyd in the United States at the hands of Minneapolis police officers has led to a wider debate about the roots of racism, colonialism, western imperialism, and societal justice.
Not only has the struggle against unpunished police breaches of basic human rights errupted in many other countries more extreme protesters have taken up blame laying and direct action against the inheritors of national histories that include unfortunate examples, such as racism, slavery and maltreatment of minorities.
The remedies of the aggrieved extremist protesters now include the defacement or destruction of symbols and statues of once-notable historic personalities whose lives included patterns of practice and behaviours which today would see them before the courts and behind bars.
The problem with seeking erasure from the community memory of such individuals is that the sum of the good and bad in such long departed personages constitutes what actually happened long ago and helps explain how our present society came to be.
The scope and scale of the British Empire really happened.
How and why such a circumstance occurred in the life of this planet and the consequences for millions of people is surely a matter of interest.
The perceived merits and failures of colonialism – the domination of other land masses and other races – are worthy of research and academic comment.
Empire building and all its supposed achievements and woes were not only the ambitions of the British.
All major trading nations have had a crack at extending their influence through colonialism or domination.
The French, Spanish, Portuguese, Germans and Italians have all dabbled in such endeavours, along with the notorious efforts of Belgium.
But since then, we have seen attempts at empire construction on the part of the Turks, Russians, Iraquis, Japanese, and, of course, the U.S. of A.
In earlier times, the Babylonians, Hittites, Egyptians, Greeks and Persians set about collecting new lands and territories.
But it was the Romans who have provided the most-studied model of empire building (one much admired by the British centuries later).
With empire comes a whole range of impacts and influences that will play out for years after the network implodes or dissipates.
These include things like judicial systems, social hierarchies, cultural habits, religious systems, railways, a civil service, and more.
And, of course, also attached is unfairness, discrimination, oppression, exploitation, and a legacy of disadvantage and anger.
One of the consequences of empire is the creation of a debate between academics, politicians, educators, and marginalised people over how the period in question should be analysed and remembered. The ferocity of such arguments is such these days that little common ground is often agreed upon by the opposing parties.
Indeed, the debate in recent years over learned interpretations about the British Empire’s role in the world has shown that there is not much room for fence-sitting.
Too often, it seems, that protesters hold the view that the sins of the father also lie with the son – or daughter.
This is a pity for moderate, reasonably educated people who are quite prepared to recognise the shortcomings and wrongs of a less-tolerant and more uncompromising world but, at the same time see that, without a time machine, none of us can travel back and change things.
History is what it is.
Moderate, ordinary people give acknowledgement to and feel deep regret for the wrongs that were perpetrated by colonial rulers and believe that every effort should be made to expunge disadvantage from the lives of the descendants of the victims of oppressive policies while ensuring they can aspire and achieve happiness and peace in our modern world.
Respectful, reasoned and thoughtful dialogue can best resolve contentious and deeply-felt issues such as those being expressed in recent days.
This method would help gain wide public support and hopefully lead to mutually and satisfactorily resolved solutions within an acceptable time scale.To order photos from this page click here