Another history altogether

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WHAT exactly is history? Well, I suppose it’s often what’s seen as truth by the victors of battles fought over centuries.

The losing sides of course, never get the opportunity to write their version of events, having been beaten into submission, and probably enslaved.

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It’s been said many times that traitors never prosper simply because if the cause favoured by their treachery wins, they are no longer considered traitors. Truth, it seems, suffers much the same historical fate.

A British film called ‘The History Boys’ came out a few years ago. It concerned a group of sixth form history students preparing for their entrance interviews for Oxford.

They are all fairly middle-class, with one lad, clearly of a lower order, the only exception. When asked “What is history?” this one replies: “Just one damn’ thing after another,” and this answer, honestly given, gets him through. However, as we all know, life is different, and relying on that sort of response would not normally be all that well received.

But going back to ‘History’: We are taught that the ancient Greeks gave us philosophy, science, art, and certain basics of hygiene; but mentioned less frequently are the slaves who, by carrying out all the day-to-day tedious tasks, gave the great thinkers and artists the time they needed to exercise their intellects.

Slaves have played an important role in the development of civilisations over the centuries.

They were there in Greece, and in the Roman Empire which gave us much of our modern language and history. They were there even in Britain, where technically speaking, slavery hadn’t existed since feudal times. However, and although this is something history tends to ignore, the industrial expansion of the Victorian era could not have taken place without the nineteenth-century working classes – slaves in all but name.

Historical plays, films, novels and romances are perhaps more popular today than in any past era, and include those involving what is known as ‘alternate history’, where the author looks at how the world might have been changed if, for instance, Napoleon had been the victor at Waterloo, or if the South had been successful in the American Civil War.

If I had the writing ability, my favourite theme would explore a fictional world in which the Republicans had come out on top in the Spanish Civil War.

The Spain of nineteen-forty probably would have had a left-wing government with strong ties to Moscow, whilst Germany, straddling a prostrate France and threatening a weakened Britain, would be standing, with its mighty war machine, on the Spanish-French border. Britain, depending for its very survival upon its merchant shipping, would be under serious threat (as it was in the non-fictional history) by U-boats based on the French Atlantic coast, and at times almost on its knees.

If Germany, invading a Spain weakened by three years of civil war, had succeeded in taking Gibraltar, and thus closing the Mediterranean and the Suez Canal, perhaps the entire European continent, and even Russia, might now be under the control of the thousand-year Reich.

If the Republican navy (more ‘ifs’) had been used to block the arrival of Franco’s Moroccan reinforcements, the outcome of that war might have been different – another history altogether.

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