Britain In Denial: A Lesson From Berlin

Visiting Berlin this last week made me think about how we acknowledge our past indiscretions. History is a tricky subject; many are aware of what brought their nation or people to this point, but many simply choose to ignore it.

Sadly, many who do acknowledge and seek to raise awareness are castigated and labelled ‘apologists’ for simply acknowledging wrongs committed in the past.

Memorial to the murdered Jews of Europe Berlin Holocaust
Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe

Walking around Berlin you can really gauge the culture and mindset of the German people. Hitler’s bunker is now a car park, there would be no shrine for future maniacs. Statues commemorating those who were murdered are plain to see and are open – often for free – to everyone.

They showcase the good and the bad, and it proves they are a cut above other European cultures.

Berlin has been the focal point of some truly great eras in European history. The enlightenment lay the foundations for a city culture that embraced tolerance and progress. Science and intellectualism reigned supreme and the culture of openness in Berlin during the interwar era allowed for a myriad of subcultures and societies to flourish.

Berlin Museum Pergamon
Berlin Museum Island

Berlin is home to some wonderful museums and exhibits. Many sites that inform visitors of the horrors of Nazism and the uncertainty of a world divided between East and West. Museums such as the Topography of Terrors look at the rise of the Gestapo and Nazi brutality, and the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe is a harrowing account of the murder committed by the Nazi regime.

These museums all openly detail how, where and when it happened. Crucially however, they acknowledge why.

Hardcore political beliefs are once again on the rise

In such uncertain times as these we would do well to think about how easily the Germany people were drawn into the rhetoric of hate speakers. Socrates once spoke of the danger that demagoguery posed to society, and in 1930s Germany intellectuals, academics and every-day open minded people were caught up in the madness.

They found themselves burning books and synagogues, informing on and betraying neighbours; all actions that one cannot imagine doing today.

The German people want the world to know about this, and it is a trait that absolutely must be applauded. They accept that their ancestors committed heinous acts and they want to display the evil they committed as a warning to others today, and as a tribute to those who died.

It is not self-indulgent in any way, it is not a grovelling apology aimed at garnering sympathy, it is simply an acknowledgement that this happened, and they allowed it to happen.

This is more than can be said about other nations; particularly the United Kingdom.

Westminster Parliament London United Kingdom
The Seat of Britain’s Power

I would go so far as to say that I cannot be held responsible for the actions of others several centuries ago, and nor would I openly apologise for it – I wasn’t there, I didn’t commit these crimes and I cannot be held accountable. I can, however, acknowledge the heinous acts that the British Empire committed in its centuries long supremacy.

In addition to this I can seek to educate others on this subject. Whether they simply do not know, or refuse to acknowledge. It is not only my responsibility, but the responsibility of any decent and moral person.

Many in the United Kingdom fail to acknowledge our past. They do not wish to be held accountable, and rightly so. Yet they refuse outright to even speak of it.

Is it a deep-seeded shame, or a real belief that these were necessary evils?

Ultimately, I believe it falls down to our education system. Throughout our years in school we are taught of the marvels that the British Empire produced; the Industrial Revolution, the abolition of slavery and a myriad of scientific and medical breakthroughs.

Britain’s actions against indigenous cultures are often ignored

We are taught of our nations’ valiant defence of democracy against Nazism, German imperialist ambitions and our gentrification of the globe, but we fail to detail our own relentless imperial advances, our creation of the very camps that the Nazis used to murder millions, or the countless indigenous cultures subjugated and destroyed.

Those three are but a taste of the many crimes committed by Britain; An aperitif before the several courses of glutenous murder and destruction.

Walking through our museums and galleries, one would be hard pressed to find a significant exhibit or section throughout the United Kingdom that details what Britain done. Grand statues of imperialists and monarchs watch over our streets and squares, and the museums themselves are home to our plunder.

Small mentions of the peoples who came before us are all we can seem to hope for, an ode to a flame long extinguished, and replaced by the empty glow of our own brand of progress and civilisation.

We need to discuss this culture of denial in the United Kingdom. To do this we need politicians who are not scared of speaking the truth, who are not scared of being lambasted across all forms of media. We need an education system that teaches the good and bad in equal measure, for if history is how we perceive it, then we cannot hope to move forward without repeating the same mistakes.

Many in Britain still cling to the past

Educating our youth on how our ‘glory days’ actually came about will, hopefully, stem the flow of nostalgia in our country. Our longing for those days to return and Britain to take pride of place among the world’s apex predators. If we do that then I would guess that we can actually look to building a better future and not clambering to rebuild the old.

Like a lover scorned, we clutch at straws in the hope of once again feeling the warmth of love. I do pity those who long for the glory days to return. If they truly knew what that glory cost, I dare say they would not sleep well at night.

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7 thoughts on “Britain In Denial: A Lesson From Berlin

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  1. Wise – and, as you say, brave – words. Thank you for liking the post I shared from ‘A Bit About History’. I wonder did you happen to notice whilst you were there that I have a book about one of the worst examples of Britain’s failure as a colonial power?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Frank,

      Apologies for the delayed response!

      I found Berlin to be an exceptional city and the people of Berlin to be a great example of how to move on from the past.

      I did not notice this, but you have my curiosity! I will look at your blog for this!

      Kind regards,

      Ross

      Like

  2. I hear what you’re saying about not feeling any impulse to apologize for your nation’s past, and I agree, but can I complicate the question for a moment? First, the agreeing part:I don’t think apologizing’s useful, and neither is feeling guilt stricken. They’re absurd, useless, and embarrassing.

    But. We didn’t have to participate in those crimes to benefit from them. As an example, not only were my ancestors not guilty of American slavery, they hadn’t even reached the U.S. when it was abolished. But that didn’t keep them from having the advantages that American racism allowed to whites. Benefits that came, to an extent I’m not able to measure, from both slavery and the exclusion of free blacks from decent pay and decent jobs and decent etc. I was born into the privileged part of a caste system. Apologies are, in this case, useless. Awareness is at least a start. Some years ago, some American blacks raised the issue of compensation for slavery, which strikes me as justifiable, although politically it would be a tough battle–especially these days

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I would go so far as to say that Britain as a nation needs to acknowledge its imperial past – and to my knowledge there has been very little in the way of official apologies from the British government.

      India, for example, received an apology by the British government (if I’m not mistaken) and rightly so.

      As an individual however I would not apologise for the actions of a regime long before my existence. What I am interested in though is a concerted effort to at least acknowledge these issues.

      The feeling I got from visiting Berlin’s museums and galleries was one of remembrance and acknowledgement; they did these things, they know that, they have apologised and they are informing us for a reason – and that reason is to ensure they never happen again.

      Britain, sadly, does very little to replicate this culture.

      As I mention in the post, my experience of this subjects throughout school was rarely critical in nature. Merely a tipping of the hat to a supposed idea of progress and the spreading of ‘civilisation’ as we envisaged it at the time.

      We need to be taught of our nations actions across the globe and accept our wrongdoings.

      Hypothetically, if one were to publicly criticise Winston Churchill on his involvement in various atrocities throughout his time in public office and the military, they would be run out of town quicker than a bootlegger

      Liked by 1 person

      1. This is unacceptable and requires study.

        On the issue of slavery I am inclined to agree with you.

        State recognition has been achieved but reparations are a distant dream it appears.

        There is the issue of delegating public funds towards this, however. Funds that could be focused on solving issues prevalent within minority communities.

        Would the public as a whole support this action? Sadly, I believe not.

        Obviously, from my background, I cannot imagine living with the knowledge that my family were considered less than human a mere four generations ago, and as such my opinions on the matter (I believe) are not necessary in this field.

        This is an issue entirely in the hands of the black communities in the UK, US and indeed across the globe.

        Support from the white community would be considerable on this issue (at least in the UK) I believe however.

        Liked by 1 person

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