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Weaponising the past threatens freedom

A Soviet propaganda poster from 1941. Galerie Bilderwelt/Getty Images

History has become weaponised, says Max Hastings on Bloomberg. Last week a Russian said my book on the Second World War was “a disgusting lampoon of the Soviet people and their Victory”. But that’s just one troll. Entire countries are now “systematically committed to concealing or annihilating realities”. Generations of Russians, for instance, have been denied the resources to explore their past. Even Putin makes the “ludicrous” assertion that the Poles started the Second World War. Most Chinese exist in “the same miasma of ignorance and deceits” about the horrors of the Cultural Revolution. Instead, Beijing mobilises the past, including historic western exploitation of the “Heavenly Kingdom”, to advance China’s foreign policy aims. 

Even elected leaders excavate history for political ends. President Macron recently honoured the divisive figure of Napoleon at his tomb because many in France yearn for “la gloire” that the emperor supposedly brought, “as well as fewer African immigrants”. If Macron fails to deliver on both, the right-wing Marine Le Pen is waiting to pounce in next year’s elections. In the West, we take for granted “a licence to seek out truth”. But this freedom is increasingly threatened. Trolls swamp the internet with lies and the new populist nationalism demands “partisan visions of history few scholarly historians would recognise”. As a result, many more people are selecting their own truth about the past and the present, “and it is seldom the kind we were once taught in school”.

Read the full article here.