The Uses and Abuses of History, 1919 to Present


November 2004

Thank you so much for that extremely generous introduction, I think my head’s just been turned. It was much too nice and thank you very much indeed. I'm very honoured to be here. I'm delighted to be at St. Francis Xavier where I've never been before and I wish I had been. I can't think why I haven't been. And I'm also delighted to be giving the Allan MacEachen lecture. It is a great honour and I feel that I have to uphold not just my own honour but the other historians. If I'm the first historian doing this in this row of distinguished politicians, I hope that I can salvage something of the honour of my profession.

Now you may think that history has very little to do with politics. I think a lot of people think history has very little to do with anything. I constantly get students who say it must be so nice to teach history, you never have to change your notes. It is all done isn't it? It is all finished. It's something that's happened and what does it really matter. Of course, I think it matters a great deal. And I think it matters a great deal not just in our lives but it matters a great deal in the politics and the times in which we live. I think history is not something that is dead and buried. I think history is not a dusty collection of artifacts lying somewhere in an imaginary glass case. What history is, I think, is much more like a subterranean pool, lying underneath the world in which we live and every so often that pool with send something, perhaps sulfurous fumes, perhaps something more palatable, up into the present. It shapes the way in which we think. It shapes the ways in which we view the world. It shapes our memories. It shapes our hostilities, our antithesis, our friendships. And unless we know that about history, I think we are troubled in the world in which we live. History, I think, is a very useful tool.

History is also a very dangerous tool which is why I called my lecture tonight the 'uses and abuses of history.' It can be dangerous because history can give people a sense of their own powers which may be false. It can justify doing things which may be wrong. It can cause disturbances. Some of the people who have realized just how dangerous history is are dictators, because they have recognized how dangerous memory can be. Think of the way in which Stalin dealt, for example, with the memory of Trotsky. He tried to eradicate Trotsky from the history of the Soviet Union. He tried so successfully that Trotsky became, in George Orwell's words, an unperson. Trotsky, who had been one of the founders of the Russian Revolution in 1917, who had built the Red army which had insured that that revolution survived, became someone whose name was not mentioned in the Soviet Union. The records were changed. The histories were changed. Even the photographs were changed. There was a famous photograph, which some of you may have seen, of all the early Bolsheviks, Lenin and Stalin and so on, standing on a reviewing stand in the Great Square outside the Kremlin. And Stalin, in fact, is at the far end and Lenin is somewhere in the middle. And one by one as people were purged, Trotsky first of all, but others afterward, they were simply taken out of the photograph. And so gradually the photograph got much smaller and in the end you had Stalin standing beside Lenin and almost no one else there. I think in one printing they actually didn't do a very good job and they left some poor man standing there with three legs because they forgot to take them out. So history, as I’ve said, can be dangerous.

History can be useful. I think what we should never do is dismiss the past. I think if we think in terms of ourselves, we understand how important it is. We are all products of our own histories. We all approach the world in certain ways because of the experiences we have had to this date. And we make assumptions about the world; we make assumptions about people; we take actions based at least in part, on our own histories. And I think if we carry that analogy out and think of nations being like individuals, which I think they sometimes are, then I think we will understand how important it is to get some grasp of what it is that peoples remember. History is seen differently in different societies. We are in North America, for the most part, not very historically minded society. That is perhaps truer of the Americans than it is of Canadians. But I think we tend – and this reflects the pattern of settlement in what was called the new world – we tend to look forward rather than back. We tend to look to the future; we tend to assume the future will be better; and we tend not to worry that much about the past. And because of that, we sometimes as North Americans have trouble in remembering just how important the past is to other peoples; and how important the assistance of historical memories can be.

When I was writing my book on the Paris Peace Conference I found – and I'm sure students here are familiar with this – many ways to avoid actually getting down to writing it. And there are a great many things you can do to waste time and one of them for me was to go to the internet. And when I was writing my book and I could not face dealing with a particular chapter, I'd go on the internet and I would look up the websites of various national movements. And what was so fascinating was how many of them mentioned things like the Paris Peace Conference in 1919. If you go on to the websites of various Kurdish national movements, you will see that they all mention a treaty that was signed in Paris, the treaty known as the Treaty of Sèvres signed in Paris in the fall of 1919, which was the first international agreement anywhere in the world to mention the possibility of a separate Kurdish state. Now it didn't happen in those days, but for the Kurds this was one of the foundations of their state and it is something they've not forgotten. And if you go onto any number of websites, you will see reference to the past, back to the Paris Conference of 1919, but back even further.

The use of history in creating nations is something, I think, fairly recent. It really dates back to the beginning of the 19th century. But it has played a very important part. And what we saw in Europe and then in the wider world in the course of the 19th and 20th century is groups of people beginning to see themselves as this being called a nation. And the important thing about a nation is that it is something that is bigger than any individual, it precedes the individual. The individual is part of it but it will carry on after that individual is dead. It is a way, perhaps, of insuring a type of immortality. Some bit of you, the bit of you that is part of that nation is going to survive into the future. And this is not a way that human beings divided themselves up before the 19th century. But from the 19th century onward, we have tended to divide ourselves into nations.

I take this was the case in Europe where people divided themselves up into nations based on sense of shared culture, often a shared language, often a shared religion, some form of shared ethnicity. And historians played a very important part in this because as the peoples began to see themselves as nations, they began to need a history. If you are a nation, you want to know that you have been around for some time, and you want to know that you have some real existence. And so a great deal of the history that was written in the 19th century and indeed in the 20th centuries, was history written to create nations. A lot of these histories were not very good histories, because histories written to create nations tend to glorify that nation. And so they would have a very particular view of that nation's past, usually showing the nation winning or trying things, sometimes showing the nation in terms of enduring and suffering. But showing that there always had been a nation. This was happening in other fields as well. I mean one of the early things that began to happen was when Germans began to develop a sense that they were a nation, they were a people born together, was that you got Germans collecting folklore stories. Some of you, perhaps all of you, have read the Grimm fairytales. Those were not written as fairytales for children. Those were collected by the Brothers Grimm to show they there had always been, as far back as human memory went, folktales that were part of a German nation. And so the creation of nations, the creations of memories of nations was a very important part of what historians were doing.

If you think of the ways in which leaders have used histories, often to foster a sense of nationhood, think of Milosevic, Slobodan Milosevic, who as a good communist didn't believe in nations, had done very well under the communist regime in Yugoslavia. And suddenly, the whole thing was pulled out from underneath him with the collapse of communism at the end of the Cold War. And he remade himself with incredible facility as a Serbian nationalist. He went in 1989 to the 600th anniversary of the famous Battle of Kosovo, a great Slav national moment; the famous battle of 1389 when the Serbs lost their independence to the Ottoman Turks. And Milosevic there made a speech in which he said we, the Serbs, have always suffered. We have always persisted. We have always been a nation that has done good deeds. And so he was appealing, very, very deliberately to a sense of Serbian-Croatian outstanding history and that was a very important moment in the break up of Yugoslavia.

People have fought against this. The great French thinker Ernest Renan said a nation is simply a group united by a view of their past and a hatred of their neighbours. I always thought him right, but that does not stop people from doing this. This still goes on. I mean if you think of the attempt by Hindu nationalists in India recently to write a Hindu version of Indian history. To wipe out all the contributions made to Indian history by Muslims, by Buddhists, by Christians, by others, and simply to show that India has always been and therefore always will be a Hindu country. National histories, history in this sense, also creates, as Renan suggested, hostility towards others. If you write a history of yourselves which shows you as always knowing, always good, always heroic, then of course, the reverse of that is to show the other, your enemy, as always brutal, always hostile, always evil. And so what history in this sense can do – this is why I think it is such a dangerous subject – is not only give you an exalted sense of yourself, but it can lead you to diminish those who stand in your way. They do not belong. They are not part of us. They are our enemies. And I think you saw this again very clearly in the break up of Yugoslavia, when the Serbian nationalists continued and persisted in describing the Bosnian Muslims as Turks, suggesting that they weren't Slav at all; that they didn't belong there; they were somehow illegitimate; that they shouldn't be there. Serb nationalists created an alternative history of these people as people who had come in, who had seized land from good Serbs and good Croatians and who didn't belong there at all. And this was asserted against all the evidence that such people were in fact Slavs who had just chosen to become Muslim. And so history not only brings people together but it also in a very dangerous way divides them up. And it becomes justification, of course, for treating people very badly. If you use history in this way then you can paint a picture of those you see as your enemies in which you can then justify to yourself getting rid of them.

One of the defining features of ethnic nationalism is this sense of drawing lines. It is about saying we're all together and we're all inside this circle and those others are outside and they don't belong. One of the most extreme cases, of course, that you can all think of is the history of Germans and the Jews in Germany. Germany was the country in which Jews had been, perhaps, the most integrated of any of the Jewish communities in Europe; where Jewish emancipation had taken place much earlier than in countries such as Great Britain; where most German Jews felt themselves to be German first and a very distant second Jewish. Indeed, the chief rabbi before the First World War was so worried about the process of assimilation that he felt there would be no Jewish community left in Germany at all, because so many German Jews were intermarrying or simply changing their faith and no longer being Jews. And the German racists, who were not all Germans but certainly the Nazis and their followers, created an alternative history. They created a German history where Jews had never supported Germany; had stabbed Germany in the back during the First World War. This was utterly false. Jews had fought in the German army, had died in as many numbers in proportion to the German population as anyone else. Even when the Second World War began, there were German Jews trying to enlist in the German army because they felt themselves to be German, in spite of what had been done to them. What the Nazi's did was create an alternative history which for them then became justification for systematically removing the Jews from German civil life and then of course, trying to exterminate them.

History is also used in other ways. History has been used to support claims. One of the things that happened at the Paris Peace conference, I'm sorry, I always come back to the Paris Peace Conference which is a subject I know a lot about. The Paris Peace Conference took place at the end of the First World War. And it had an absolutely huge agenda and one of those things the agenda had to deal with was what was a very fluid and chaotic situation in much of Europe. Because what the war had done was destroy Russia, not just the regime but the old Russian Empire. Because Russia had been an empire, it had been a place where a number of non-Russians had been incorporated over the preceding hundred years and so you had living within Russia peoples who were not Russian - Ukrainians, Belarusian's, Latvians, Estonians, Lithuanians, Finns. Down in the Caucasus you had Armenians, Georgians, Azerbaijanis and so on. And when the Russian regime collapsed, so did the Russian empire, and a number of peoples tried to make themselves free and establish their own countries. The Austro-Hungarian Empire in central Europe collapsed and again you had peoples, in some cases peoples who already had their country like the Poles and in other cases, peoples who had never had a country like Czechoslovaks, trying to establish their countries. What that meant was that an awful lot of land was up for grabs and it was not at all clear how the boundaries would be drawn. And so when the petitioning nations came to Paris as they did, because what you had in Paris for six months, between January 1919 and June 1919, was an extraordinary concentration of power in the most long-lasting concentration of powers we have seen and one in which we will never see again. And we never again will have the American president, the Canadian prime minister, the British prime minister, the Italian prime minister, the French prime minister and many more, all sitting in one city for six months, talking about the world. Paris was that concentration of power and a great many people came to Paris to ask for land, to ask for countries, to ask for recognition, to ask for independence.

Of course, if you are asking for a country, you have to ask for certain boundaries. You can’t just come and say I'd like the country, give us what you feel we should have. I mean, you come with a shopping list of what you'd like. So how do you establish, particularly in Europe where the populations are so mixed, in the centre of Europe where you have, because of history, Germans living next to Hungarians living next to Czechs living next to Poles. Where you have this jumbled population, how do you establish your borders? Well, you look at ethnicity and you try to count heads. And there was a great deal of rather dubious counting that went on. For example, sometimes people were counted as being Germans when they didn't speak a word of German. But the Germans who were doing the counting said well, they feel German. You got the French trying to claim a piece of Germany just west of the Rhine River, saying well no, people there don’t really speak French but they were once French, and you look at them and they are so much more French than German. They have a joie de vivre. They like wine. They don't like sausages. They don't drink beer. They're not stolid like the Germans. And so you try to count heads and you try to count ethnicity but it was not easy. And in fact, in many cases people resisted. You had, for example, Polish speaking Protestants who insisted that they were German because they didn't want to live in country dominated by the Catholic Poles who were the majority. And so ethnicity was one way and language lines tried to draw the boundaries, but history was another.

And so all these nations and would be nations came to Paris with historical demands. The trouble, of course, was that there were many overlapping demands. It was more than human nature could be expected to do to come to something like the peace conference when you finally have the chance to get a country of your own and saying we don't want much. What we'd like is the neat little country we had in the 15th century. That didn't happen. What people do, of course, was rummage through their past and find their largest possible boundaries. And so Polish nationalists came to Paris and said, “well we weren't that big at the end of the 18th century when we disappeared but we were in fact very big in the 17th century." Now if you were the Greeks, you could imagine what you did. The Greeks came to Paris a very small and rather poor country, about the same size it is today. The Greeks came to Paris and said, well actually, if you go back before the birth of Christ, we were a very large empire. We had colonies throughout the Black Sea, we had all these great city-states along the coast of Asia Minor in what is today Turkey. We controlled most of the islands of the Mediterranean. That's basically what we should have. That is what history gave us and that is what we would like to have again. The Greeks, unfortunately, got part of they wanted. They were given by the peace conference permission to land on the coast of Asia Minor to try to reestablish the Greek empire there, and it was a disaster. They were driven out by Turkish nationalists and under Colonel Mustafa Kamal, Ataturk as he came to be known. And not only were the Greek soldiers driven out but so were several million of Greeks who had lived there, in many cases, for centuries.

You got historical claims, of course, also being made in the Middle East. The Zionists, those Jews who wanted a Jewish state, came to the peace conference and said, history and God also have given us historical roots in the Middle East and we must go back there.

And so history was used to justify all sorts of claims, as it still is. I mean we still use history; when people will make claims for recompense based on history. At the moment I believe there is a law case going through the law courts in the United States, African Americans who are descended from slaves who were brought in the 18th century to the United States have now launched a law case to claim recompense from the American government for what has been, for what was traditionally done to them. The trouble is that history not always a very good guide to who should get what. And in some cases you get overlapping claims. Winston Churchill said memorably about the Balkans in this period, he said the trouble with the Balkans is they produce more history than they can consume. I always thought it was a very good image. What history also can do is to create a sense of grievance and to justify adopting certain policies.

And again, the Paris Peace Conference provides a very clear example of this. The Germans hated the Treaty of Versailles which they signed at the Paris Peace Conference. It became known in Germany as the Dictat, the treaty that was signed at the point of a gun, which in fact it was. And opposition to that treaty was widespread in Germany, right across the political spectrum. And it helped to fuel the rise of the ultranationalists, in particular the Nazi party and Hitler, and it helped to fuel support for the policies which Hitler adopted. Hitler very consciously said both before and after he got into power, that I'm going to break the chains of the Treaty of Versailles and indeed he did. And there were very few people in Germany who were prepared to oppose him because he was in fact doing what a great many people wanted. Even before Hitler got into power, the Treaty of Versailles was systematically evaded in Germany. Germany under the Treaty of Versailles was meant to have only a very small army. It was not meant to have an air force at all. Well, it didn't have an air force but it the 1920s it had an awful lot of flying clubs. And on Saturday mornings, young men with very short hair cuts would march out in formation to their airplanes, salute, get into their planes and then go up and fly in formation around the German skies. Germany was not meant to have tanks but German tractor factories were turning out very very large tractors, absolutely useless for agricultural purposes but very useful for testing very large engines for moving very large things like tanks. There were jokes told in the cabarets of Berlin about this. It was perfectly well known. There was a famous joke that was being told at the end of the 1920s, about the man who worked in a factory that made baby carriages. And his wife was expecting a baby. He worked on one bit of the assembly line just dealing with one small bit of the baby carriage. So he said to his wife I'll smuggle out some pieces and I'll get the people on the other bits of the assembly line to smuggle out some pieces. And so they all smuggled the pieces out and he put them together and he kept on putting them together and he kept on getting a machine gun.

The German view of the Treaty of Versailles was not true in my view. But what people believe about history is as important as what actually was the case. The Germans hated the treaty for a number of reasons and it had to do with their perception of it historically. They hated the treaty because they thought the American president, Woodrow Wilson, had promised them a peace based on his 14 points. Woodrow Wilson was an idealist of foreign policy. His 14 points outlined a world in which there would be no peace-making with retribution, no vindictive peaces, no peoples given away to be ruled by other peoples against their will. Woodrow Wilson had promised this but he also had said to the Germans you must be punished. Woodrow Wilson believed firmly that Germany had been responsible for the First World War. The Germans, however, convinced themselves that what Woodrow Wilson was promising was that they would pay no penalty for having lost the war. What is more, they came to persuade themselves that Woodrow Wilson had encouraged them, as indeed he had done, to overthrow their Kaiser Wilhelm II and set up a republic. And if they set up a republic they would be a different Germany. They would have wiped the slate clean and they would not be responsible for the old Germany.

The final piece of this belief that they had been promised a certain peace, believing that they were in fact a different Germany who shouldn't be punished for any thing, was that they did not really believe that they had lost the war. Germany sued for an armistice in September 1918 after its armies had lost on the battlefield. The German high command panicked. They told the civilian government, which they kept in the dark up to this point, they suddenly told them we've lost the war. Get us an armistice before it is too late. And the civilian government did in fact do this. Germany had lost on the battlefield. The terms of the armistice are a complete surrender. Germany surrendered its fleet, both its surface fleet and its submarine fleet. It surrendered virtually all its heavy equipment. In other words, it disarmed itself. But what happened soon after the armistice was signed was that the German high command, the same high command which had demanded an armistice immediately, began to forget that, and began to spread the word that they could have fought on and that they had wanted to fight on but it was only the weak-kneed civilian government plus certain traitorous elements in Germany that had prevented this from happening. There was a moment apparently when a British journalist in 1920 was interviewing General Von Ludendorff who was one of the high command who was busy propagating this view of things, and said General Ludendorff you seem to be suggesting that you were stabbed in the back. And Ludendorff's eyes light up and he said a stab in the back, he said, that's precisely what happened. And that became an enduring part of what Germans believed about the end of the war. That Germany had never lost on the battlefield. The only reason German had had to ask for an armistice was because people at home had made it impossible for the soldiers to fight on. And who were those people, well, they were the left wing, they were the liberals who had opposed the war, and they were the Jews. And that was the beginning of what was going to be a very dreadful period in German history.

And so believing that it had not lost the war, believing therefore that it should not pay any penalty, the Germans received their peace treaty terms with absolute horror. My own view is that they would not have liked any peace terms at all. I think that's partly human nature. I mean if you go to court in a lawsuit and you lose, in my experience, you don't usually come out saying that was a very fair judgement the judge made and the other side deserved to win. Human nature doesn't work like this. And the Germans did not believe they had lost. Did not think, therefore, that any terms which involved paying any penalty for Germany would be fair. And they came to fix on one thing in particular in the Treaty of Versailles and that was the clauses which bound them to pay reparations. Now reparations remained a very thorny issue that's still debated about. And the idea was that Germany should pay for war damage. And we still try and do it. We still try and make countries pay for war damage. The Americans tried to make Iraq pay for war damages after the first Iraq war. And there has certainly been talk of it again. Because I think there is a feeling that if someone has created immense amounts of destruction, that someone should pay for it. And the French point of view on this – the French leader was very vindictive – was that it was perfectly clear. The French point of view was that we didn't attack Germany, we didn't invade Germany. Germany attacked us in 1914 and Germany invaded us and the war was fought on French soil and Belgium soil. It wasn't fought on German soil. And the damage that was done was done to French industry and French towns and French cities and the French railway network. The French had something like 40% of all their heavy industry up in the north of France where the battlefields were. That had been largely destroyed, a lot of it in the fighting and a lot of it in the last weeks of the war, apparently deliberately by German troops as they retreated back towards the German boundary. As one French newspaper said, why should the French taxpayer pay for this? In any case, France didn't have the resources to begin to do even a fraction of what was needed in repairs. And so I think it was widely agreed by those who met in Paris in 1919 that Germany should pay something. And when they looked at Germany they looked at a country which was relatively, only relatively, but relatively unscathed by the war. German industrial plant was still intact; German infrastructure was still intact; Germans themselves had not had the experience of having a hideous modern war fought on their soil.

And so in the peace treaty a clause or clauses were inserted about reparations and the one which became the infamous one is Article 231. This was a very long treaty. (In fact, one of the problems with the treaty, as an aside, is that it was much too long and they threw everything in but the kitchen sink. I mean the first part of the treaty was the Covenant of the League of Nations and then if you read on you get to some obscure clause somewhere in the 400s which says the German ethnographic museum in Berlin should also return the skull of Chief Mkwawa which was taken from Uganda in 1883.) It was a bad treaty in that way but the clause that caused so much trouble is Article 231 which said that Germany accepts responsibility for the war. And that was put in to establish Germany's legal liability to pay reparations. And it was actually written by a young American lawyer called John Foster Dullas who was there in Paris and it was written very much in a legalistic frame of mind. And the second clause, Article 232 which comes immediately afterwards, was put in to limit that liability. So the first clause establishes Germany's liability for reparations by saying Germany accepts responsible for the war and the second clause, article 232, limits that liability saying what Germany pays will be based on Germany's capacity to pay. The German foreign ministry made a conscious decision to attack article 231 and it came to be known in Germany as the war guilt clause. And you probably heard of it like that, but it doesn't mention the word guilt. Now responsibility is perhaps getting pretty close to guilt but it was not about guilt so much (but it was implied), it was about establishing a legal base on which to make Germany pay reparations. The German Foreign Ministry attacked it and throughout the 1920s the German Foreign Ministry had a special office which devoted itself to pouring out reams of propaganda about the Treaty of Versailles: about how unfair it was, about how unjust it was. The German Foreign Ministry went back through their own records and very selectively published documents to show that Germany hadn't really intended to start the First World War at all. You can do a lot by how you select the documents. And it invited foreign scholars, including Sidney Fay, a very eminent American scholar to come and look through these documents. And a number of books were written both in German and in other languages, English particularly, arguing that it really wasn't fair to blame Germany for the war because the war had started by mistake and if Germany hadn't been responsible for the war then it shouldn't be paying reparations.

Now this view of the war, this view of Germany's responsibility or not, was going to be very important in terms of German domestic politics but it also was going to be very important in terms of the politics of western countries because the argument that Germany had been unfairly treated and that the responsibility for the war was not really Germany's and that therefore reparations and many of the other provisions of the German treaty, the Treaty of Versailles, were not very fair, began to take root in countries such as England and the United States and Canada. It never had that much resonance in France. The French have always thought pretty clearly about who had started the war and did not really buy this argument. But that argument that revised the history of how the war had started, and how the war had ended, and the justice or not of the Treaty of Versailles, became a very important factor in appeasement. In the 1930s you got British and other politicians saying look, the treaty was unfair. Hitler is perfectly right to break these provisions. And so step by step as Hitler broke the provisions of the Treaty of Versailles, as he announced for example that Germany had an air force, which didn't really come as much of a surprise to people, as he began to build the sorts of equipment that he was forbidden to build under the Treaty of Versailles, as he moved troops into the Rhineland which was meant to be a demilitarized buffer between Germany and France, those who agreed with the revised history of the First World War, in Britain and North America, said he's right. And a very important factor in appeasement in the west was the history which began to be understood about the First World War.

And so I think, history in that sense can be very dangerous. It can create impressions. It can create justifications. It can lead people to do things which in fact are wrong or very dangerous. Now having said that, let me say a few words in defence of history because I think history sometimes can do good. What history is is terribly important for, and I think in the world in which we live perhaps more important than ever, is that history can give us information. You know, we tend to assume that everyone else in the world thinks like we do and they don't. And we tend to assume that when they talk about history that they’re just making rhetoric. We tend to assume that these historical grievances, these historical memories don't run very deep. I think we need to know what other people are thinking. We need to understand the framework in which they're operating. It doesn't mean we have to accept it. But if we don't understand that at the moment, for example, the Americans and the British, the coalition troops in Iraq, have inherited a long history of Arab and other people's hostility towards the west. We don't understand that Arabs and others who live in the Middle East are very sensitive about western companies and western nations coming in and arranging affairs in the Middle East and taking control of Middle Eastern oil, for example. If we don’t' understand that, we won't understand why it is that the coalition forces seem to be creating such hostility toward themselves. If we don't understand about Fallujah. Fallujah was bound to be a trouble spot. Fallujah is a city on two great trading routes; it always has had people coming and going. It has been a stronghold for ‘wahabism’, that very puritanical, fundamentalist version of Islam which started in the Arabian peninsula in the 18th century. It has been the stronghold of wahabism for decades now, for generations. And so I think we need to know this because perhaps it will help us to avoid mistakes. It won't solve all our problems but at least it gives some sense of what it is we are dealing with.

I think history also can be helpful with analogies. I think you should be very careful with this because they can be dangerous but history can give us some guide to our actions. If we do this, what is likely to happen? Well, when we did it before, such and such happened. If we invade a country where the people don't want us, are we going to have trouble? Well, look at what happened to the British when they tried to control Iraq at the beginning of the 1920s. How easy is it when you have an occupation of a country to build democratic institutions and the institutions of civil society? Well, maybe look at what happened in Germany and what happened in Japan after the end of the Second World War. At least looking at history will help us perhaps to ask some new questions. It won't give us clear answers. If think if anything, and I hope I've tried to lay this out tonight, history can give up very dangerous answers, but if you don't try to understand the histories of others then I think we have very little chance of understanding what makes them tick. And if we don't understand what makes other people tick, then we are likely to get it wrong. And I think the world is a troubled enough place and a dangerous enough place that we need everything we can get to help us from getting it wrong, history included.


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