Michael Gove and World War 1
With the anniversary of the start of World War 1 approaching, the Education Secretary Michael Gove has criticised the ‘left-wing’ for creating ‘myths’ about the reasons why the war started and how it was conducted. He would prefer to see it as a ‘just war’ to ‘combat aggression by a German elite bent on domination’. Not surprisingly the former Cambridge historian and now Stoke Labour MP Tristram Hunt has criticised Gove’s argument as a ‘simplistic’ and ‘crass’ attempt to ‘rewrite the historical record and sow political division’. He has been backed up by popular TV historian Tony Robinson, who describes Gove’s argument as an ‘unhelpful’ and ‘irresponsible’ attempt to ‘slag off teachers’. From the rumblings on the radio news this morning I suspect this won’t be the last we hear of this debate.
Standing back for a moment however, aren’t we just seeing here an example of that truism ‘History is written by the victors”? Gove is Education Minister and is rewriting the history curriculum. Not surprisingly he is rewriting it from his own perspective, and that perspective is Conservative, with its connotations of nationalism, patriotism and a public-school attitude. No matter whether the facts are more complex than he admits, if he (or his party) can establish ‘ownership’ of the Wordl War 1 commemorations and portray those of different opinions as snide and unpatriotic the facts become less important.
Of course the manipulation of history to suit those in power is nothing new – just read the Greek historian Herodotus for this. But how this might change, or indeed whether it will, in our age of connectedness, remains to be seen.