To justify the unjustifiable invasion of Ukraine, Vladimir Putin evoked a mythical history of the Russian people who were once, according to his delusion, one people across Ukraine and Russia.
He even suggested they are one people because some Ukrainians speak Russian. That would make New Zealanders, Australians, Canadians and even the US all British. We now know from ancient DNA studies that history is far more complex. There are no “pure races”.
Some of the founders of Russia were the Vikings from Scandinavia. But the Normans who successfully invaded England in 1066 were also descended from Vikings. Trying to evoke race into propaganda is complicated and always wrong.
History is flexible. When looking at historical “facts” it is important to look at who wrote these “facts” and when.
The best analogy are reports on football matches. Imagine a closely fought match when one side scores the only goal in the 92nd minute. If we then asked supporters to write a report, all sides would agree that there was a match, who won and when the goal was scored.
Beyond that, reports would be very different. The losing supporters would probably report a match where their team dominated and were unlucky to concede a disputed goal in injury time. There should have been a free kick or, perhaps it was offside.
The winning supporters would report a match were their team dominated the whole game and got their well-deserved victory in the end.
No one in “lying”. Both reports have some truth, but an objective reader might find it confusing.
Imagine if the victory of the winning team was the beginning of a run which led to promotion over the next two seasons. Writing about the game ten years later, a sports commentator might suggest that this was a turning point.
The dominance of the winning team foresaw their potential success. This match, he might report, showed how they were about to gain multiple promotions. Again, the writer is not lying but writing with the advantage of hindsight.
Whenever we read history from a source written at the time, we need to know who was writing and why. If written years later, is it influenced by subsequent events?
History is also influenced by the present day. Victorian history books praise the empire and rarely mention slavery. Even films of “historical events” are biased. An early movie about the Titanic showed the upper classes acting heroically, although, in reality, a man in the first class was more likely to survive than a woman in third class. The 1997 film “Titanic” told a different story.
Sometimes history is used as propaganda by missing out important events. Vladimir Solovyov, a prominent presenter on Russian state TV claimed that “Russia doesn’t start wars, it finishes them”.
We must never forget that the Soviet Union lost 24 million people fighting Hitler but in 1939 they signed the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact with Nazi Germany. Anyone with any knowledge of 20th century history knows that Britain declared war on Germany when they invaded Poland in 1939 but how many people know that, when Germany invaded Poland from the west the Soviet Union invaded from the East? It was only when Nazi Germany reneged on the pact and attacked the Soviet Union in 1941 that they supported the allies.
The German Nazi, Von Ribbentrop, who signed the Pact, has a Torquay connection. In 1937, when he was the German Ambassador to the UK a German naval ship made a “friendly” visit to the Bay. Von Ribbentrop came down and was met by 300 dignitaries at the station before being taken to a reception at the Marine Spa. He then visited the ship before having a dinner with 30 guests at the Imperial Hotel. The ship’s crew even had a match against Torquay United which, I’m delighted to report, Torquay won.
The lesson for all of us is that history is complicated. Every free and independent democracy is made up of people from all races. Most of us are proud to be mongrels. No country has a right to rule other countries. We must support Ukraine.
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