Posted by: travelrat | February 9, 2020



In 1998, I was on a press trip to the battlefields of the First World War. We visited the ‘In Flanders Fields’ Museum in Ieper, at the same time as a party of English schoolchildren. When we came out, we saw one of the boys sitting on a bench crying his eyes out.

‘What’s the matter, son? Can we get one of your teachers?’

Two teachers arrived, and one of them comforted him:

‘It’s all right, Simon!’ he said ‘You have nothing to be ashamed of. I’ve got to admit, I was a bit choked up myself’

(I wish we’d had teachers like that when I was at school)

The other one told us:

‘They’ve certainly got some powerful stuff in there! Normally, Simon’s a bit of a hard case!’

Certainly, they learned more about the First World War than we were taught. I don’t think much more than one lesson was devoted to it.

The same year, we went on holiday to Gambia, and took a cruise down the river. Among the places we would see was a museum devoted to slavery, and the ruins of an old slave station. One couple said:

‘We’re not going! We’re on holiday; we don’t want to see that kind of stuff!’

I sympathised to a certain extent. Maybe they’re not into history as much as I am … though I can’t see why; I used to hate the subject at school.

But, I can’t get out of my mind the oft-misquoted words, attributed to many people:

‘Those who study history are doomed to stand by helplessly while those who don’t repeat it’

Fitting words for these times!



  1. And wasn’t it Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Krushner (he who is charged with bringing peace to the Middle East) who said only a few weeks ago “don’t talk to me about history”!

    • Also Henry Ford’s famous ‘History is bunk!!’ and my favourite (I don’t know whence it came) ‘History is propaganda written by the winning side’.

      • I believe this is usually attributed to Winston Churchill, but no one knows who actually said it. The same sentiment is often voiced in the phrase “History is written by the victors”. I believe this to be true except in two cases, the Vietnam war where most of the history has been written by the losing side, the USA, although as most of the writers of the history were serving soldiers with a jaundiced view of their country’s behaviour in that war, it’s less biased than one would expect. The other one is the Ottoman war and the fall of Constantinople where the Greeks fled Turkey carrying horrendous, and mostly untrue, stories of Ottaman cruelty. Maybe it comes down to language and the accessibility of it?

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