I’m always a little suspicious when politicians deliberately avoid talking about something.
Take the Napoleonic wars for example.
You might think that since it was all occurring just 200 years ago, and the past few years as well as the next five years have bicentennials galore that there might be some mention of the thousands of courageous British soldiers who fought to free Portugal and Spain from French domination and tyranny–especially around Remembrance Day.
Well, if you thought that, you’d be wrong.
Because there hasn’t been a peep out of anyone.
Not only that. But even now when Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, and his History Czar, Simon Schama, who are talking non-stop about putting history back into the curriculum as an essential, the Napoleonic Wars still aren’t being mentioned.
(And that in itself is a bit odd, because Schama is a specialist in the period of the French Revolution and Napoleonic Europe…)
But a typical example is this from one of today’s newspapers: The Better History Group suggests “that at the age of 11, pupils should learn about the Romans, Anglo-Saxons, Vikings, early medieval England and the Crusades.
“At 12, pupils should be taught about medieval life, the English conquest of Scotland and Wales, the 100 Years’ War, the Wars of the Roses, the Renaissance, the Reformation, Elizabeth I and overseas exploration.”
No mention of something that happened 200 years ago, did you notice? No mention of the wars that shaped modern Europe at all.
And I find that remarkable.
Because 200 years ago, there was no German nation. There was no Italian nation either.
Germany as it was before the French revolution consisted of a number of small principalities, independent duchies, the Kingdom of Saxony, the Electorate of Hanover, and the Kingdom of Prussia.
Then, well, Napoleon got greedy.
And at first, well, at first, he just demanded that everyone be his ally or he’d whoop them all in battle. But then, well, he decided that no one could rule the world as well as he could so he just took them all over.
By 1812, only Prussia was still nominally an independent state–though they were, to be sure, paying crippling reparation payments to France for having been so unwise as to oppose Napoleon. Oh, and they were also required to have some half of his army quartered upon their citizens.
Oh, and perhaps I should also mention that he’d destroyed their superlative manufacturing industry by making them part of the Continental System which meant they couldn’t get their hands on the necessary raw materials like sugarcane–so widespread unemployment and the loss of thousands of skills…
Oh, and yes, he did also encourage the use of terror tactics and atrocities–not as widespread against the Germans as against the Spanish–to cow the German-speaking populace into submission.
All of which led to the formation of an underground anti-French sentiment.
And yes, this was supported financially by Britain and also by Russia. All of which led to a new pan-German sentiment and a renaissance of Prussian pride and a determination to fight Napoleon and drive him and his French troops back across the border.
A similar thing happened in Italy.
Where he’d taken the place by storm in the late 1790s and set himself up as the King of Italy, and er, robbed all the treasuries of the various small city-states and republics, and availed himself of all their artwork including Venice’s horses of St. Mark’s Square in order to redecorate the Louvre.
Most of the artwork was returned after Waterloo in 1815, although that which had been privately pillaged and looted by his soldiers–that was never traceable and thus never returned.
Oh, and it was the French atrocities and the robbery that sowed the seeds of Italian unification too.
These are pretty big events you might have thought.
And within this period of military conquest and domination in which more that 6 million people died (yes, that’s roughly the number killed by the Nazis in Concentration Camps) you can find the foundations of most of our modern European states.
But you’d never know it was at all important from the way it’s being dismissed today–by those who ought to be mentioning it.
You’d never know that Britain even existed as a force with which to be reckoned 200 years ago. Or that it was through Britain’s determination not to be dominated but to remain the freest country on earth that the rest of Europe was liberated, through her soldiers’ sacrifices, through her endless financial subsidies to undermine the Corsican tyrant, through her continued free-trade, and through her Navy that the world ever was loosed from the domination of man who ordered enough atrocities to win him a place in the world atrocity hall of fame.
No, you wouldn’t. In fact, if you knew anything about it at all, you might still be thinking that Trafalgar was fought not by the British against the combined French and Spanish navies. You might even believe that it was fought by the Red Team against the Blue Team as Tony Blair insisted it be done for the bicentennial re-enactment of the event to be in 2005.
But me, I just want to know why? I understand why Blair was so anti-history. If people don’t know their own history and how hard won their freedoms are, don’t know what sacrifices were made for future generations by those in the past, those freedoms can more easily be stolen…
But why won’t they talk about it now, eh? That’s what I want to know.