Why are we so ashamed of our glorious past?

by Peter Hitchens

Imagine yourself coming round in a hospital casualty department, your memory a blank, your pockets empty or handbag gone. Perhaps you can still read and count, perhaps not. In this world of scattered families and long-distance travel, how will you ever find out who you are? And what use will you ever be again, to yourself or anyone else?

More and more, Britain is like just such a patient, a country lost in amnesia, a people who have suffered a collective blow on the head which has wiped out our understanding of who we are and what we are for. Unless we swiftly find a cure, then we will be adrift in a world only, too ready to take advantage of our weakness. The strange thing about this is that we have submitted so willingly to this mental castration that some of our own people have keenly sought to blot out the real past, and reshape our history into a grey mush of social reform and gender studies.

When communism tried to steal the history of Poland in the Sixties and Seventies, furious parents risked their liberty to set up "flying universities" where the truth about the nation's history was taught in secret.

Yet our great free universities, our publishing houses and, above all, our schools participate with fierce joy in the extirpation of the true history of this country.

The latest episode in this chapter of national shame is the dropping of the British Political History syllabus by examination boards - because it does not make enough profit for them. Before that, many of the most momentous episodes in the history of this country were quietly squeezed from the curriculum by the clever trick of making them optional. How many teachers, how many schools, how many pupils, are going to opt for the longer course, the tougher exam, the more detailed reading?

Those who do, seek the truth will find literature which offers a carefully doctored version of the past. The Oxford Children's Encyclopaedia, for example, constantly soft-pedals the giant civilising achievements of Britain and its empire, while offering sympathetic and apologetic biographies of communist leaders.

A mainstream history textbook offered to British secondary schools reprints a communist anti-war propaganda painting about the horrors of the Blitz, representing the opinion of a microscopic defeatist minority at the time. A schools video produced last year on the Forties barely gives a walk-on part to Winston Churchill, a man who is being steadily written out of modern history because he does not fit the fashionable myth that the Tories sympathised with the Nazis and the Left were the only people who opposed Hitler. This myth, very different from the truth, has been one of the great engines behind the constant bombardment of ill-advised "reform" imposed on everything from our currency to our penal system.

LABOUR'S role in the rise of Hitler was to consistently vote against the rearmament measures which narrowly saved this country from slavery in 1940. Stalin's insane orders to the German Communist Party, to refuse to co-operate with the Social Democrats, virtually ensured the Nazis would come to power in 1933.

This would be mirrored, six years later, in the joint victory parade staged by Nazi and Red Army troops in the then-Polish city of Brest, and the efficient supply of Soviet oil to Germany which fuelled the Nazi Blitzkrieg and the bombers which tore the heart out of London. But millions of supposedly educated people know nothing of this, and are unaware that the one country which behaved with honour and courage when the fate of the world was being decided was Britain.

And the reason for this lies in a long history of independence and defiance, in which we repeatedly overcame the most astonishing odds to survive and triumph.

If the British people of 1940 had known nothing of Drake and Marlborough and Nelson, of Queen Elizabeth I and William Pitt, of Waterloo, whose anniversary is today, would they have imagined for a moment that they could stand alone against the Third Reich?

And Churchill's great speeches, decisive in crushing all suggestions of a peace treaty during the pivotal summer of 1940, were founded on his wide and deep knowledge of that past. Just as important, they were couched in a high-octane language which would have been beyond anyone who had not been schooled in Shakespeare, the King James Bible, Milton, Wordsworth and Tennyson - now almost as unfashionable as proper history.

The great socialist historian AJP Taylor, in his history of the period, tried to sum up Winston Churchill in a footnote. Without, intending to, and against his Left-wing instincts, he found himself writing the words: "The saviour of his country." Taylor knew in his bones that this was the truth. Could another Churchill - worth 30,squadrons of Spitfires - grow up in the Britain of today? Would he know the facts, let alone the mighty rhythms of the English language, necessary to keep us off our knees? Would anyone understand what, he was talking about?

JUST try if you can to imagine the ghastly world of perverted science and racial extermination which would have resulted from a British surrender in 1940. As the American poet Alice Duer Miller said at the time: "I am American bred: I have seen much to hate here - much to forgive. But in a world where England is finished and dead, I do not wish to live."

Those who have made a modern Churchill impossible knew what they were doing. Their continental ideas - state control, regimentation, bureaucracy, government interference in the smallest parts of life - were blocked in the past by what they called "prejudice". - the determined opposition of the voters. This is one of their favourite words, designed to suggest that people who hold common-sense opinions are bone-headed oafs, mental cavemen who resist change out of tribal instinct or plain stupidity.

But what they deride as "prejudice" is often nothing of the kind. On the contrary, it is the piled-up wisdom of the centuries, the fruit of the rich store of experience we call history. It is our owner's manual, our map, our index and our dictionary. Without it, we can barely lace our shoes.

Amnesiacs, of course, have no prejudice. But they have nothing else, either - except the ideal qualifications to serve as the slaves of others.

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