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December 27, 2005

What History Should be Taught?

Something of a ding dong in The Guardian. Monbiot:

These are just two examples of at least 20 such atrocities overseen and organised by the British government or British colonial settlers; they include, for example, the Tasmanian genocide, the use of collective punishment in Malaya, the bombing of villages in Oman, the dirty war in North Yemen, the evacuation of Diego Garcia. Some of them might trigger a vague, brainstem memory in a few thousand readers, but most people would have no idea what I'm talking about. Max Hastings, on the opposite page, laments our "relative lack of interest" in Stalin and Mao's crimes. But at least we are aware that they happened.

Max Hastings:

It should not be difficult to broaden the agenda for pupils who want to specialise in modern tyranny. They might, for instance, undertake comparative studies of Hitler, Stalin, Mao Zedong and Pol Pot, the 20th century's great mass murderers.

Stalin and Mao command less interest than Hitler because no pictures exist of their crimes comparable with movie images of the Holocaust. In an age dominated by visual images, many find it hard to acknowledge any reality unless they see it on screen. There may be a second reason for this relative lack of interest. More than a few academics harbour a visceral reluctance to acknowledge that what was done in the name of communism should be judged by the same standard as the deeds of fascism.

Here’s a radical thought. Why not actually teach what happened? In the round? Yes, parts of the story of the Empire, as Georges tells us, were indeed foul (and I’m aware of all of the stories he uses although have slightly diferent interpretations of some of them). As were most of the stories of both communism and fascism. When people are educated like that (as I pretty much assume all of you darling readers are, aware of all of these things) then perhaps they’d be able to spot what is wrong with this phrase:

(Compare this to Mike Davis's central finding, that "there was no increase in India's per capita income from 1757 to 1947",....

Students of economic history will know that that is the normal state of matters. Per capita income has been, over most of the globe for most of history, static. It’s really only since the Industrial Revolution that this has not been true everywhere. But then acknowledgement of that would destroy one of the Moonbat’s basic beliefs, that that is exactly where we went wrong.

December 27, 2005 in History | Permalink


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» What History Should be Taught? from The Filter^
I'm with Tim: economic history. [Read More]

Tracked on Dec 27, 2005 5:28:05 PM

» Per capita incomes: preindustrial and colonial from Web of Contradictions
When George Monbiot had the nerve to suggest that maybe Britains involvement in India was more guns than roses, Tim Worstalls reaction was, of course, to accuse him of economic ignorance: When people are educated like that [learning bot... [Read More]

Tracked on Dec 27, 2005 6:38:45 PM


I'm pretty sure that the Industrial Revolution happened at some point between 1757 and 1947, and given how much wealth was created from India, it is perhaps a bit surprising that the Indians didn't get any of it?

Posted by: dsquared | Dec 27, 2005 12:38:27 PM

But you can be beastly about those nice Commies...because they meant well as opposed to Hitler who was just evil.

Posted by: Andrew Ian Dodge | Dec 27, 2005 1:49:16 PM

If all that wealth was taken out of India, and the per capita income of Indians remained the same, that almost sounds like there might have been more wealth sloshing around. For some reason. Can't think what... But anyhow, if we're only talking about wealth (which is obviously goofy), and if they weren't getting any less income, well, worse things can happen than being no worse off than you used to be. Especially considering that once you good folks toddled off, they did get to keep the excess.

If you hadn't saddled them with cricket, it'd be a net win!

Posted by: P. Froward | Dec 28, 2005 4:42:06 AM

P. Froward,

Like Tim, you assume that the rate of growth in pre capita incomes before 1757 was (mostly) static, and that if the British had not intervened, it would continue to be (mostly) static. But that simply cannot be assumed (as I noted over at the Web of Contradictions).

If a tyrant reorganized your country to service his every whim, and took such a tribute from your produce that though you worked for 200 years you got no richer and your children starved around you, while the tyrant became one of the mightiest rulers on the Earth, you probably wouldn’t be so easygoing. Why, people in Britain or America get pretty annoyed with their government when their incomes fail to grow year-on-year.

Nor should it be assumed that 1947 left India in an economically flourishing state. It still had an economy geared towards supporting a collapsing Empire rather than India itself, it was trying to integrate into a global economy in total disarray after World War II, and then its government created the license Raj (Wikipedia) that (it is reasonably argued) further inhibited economic growth. As usual, interpretations vary, but both Deepak Lal and J. Bradford Delong (warning: that’s a PDF) say growth in pre-capita incomes was slow before the 1980s.

Posted by: Contradictory Ben | Dec 28, 2005 9:52:13 AM

Also, while average income remained constant, its variability increased markedly and when you're near to starvation, volatility is a nasty thing.

Posted by: dsquared | Dec 28, 2005 10:49:13 AM

Hmm … for some reason now beyond me, in my preceding comment I kept writing ‘pre capita’ where I meant ‘per capita’, in case that wasn’t obvious.

Posted by: Contradictory Ben | Dec 28, 2005 11:48:15 AM