Mary Beard, in good form today:
Of course, I'm sceptical that there are often actually any (truly useful) lessons to be learnt from Rome but that doesn't mean one can't have some fun digging up comparisons from the ancient world.
Mary Beard, in good form today:
Of course, I'm sceptical that there are often actually any (truly useful) lessons to be learnt from Rome but that doesn't mean one can't have some fun digging up comparisons from the ancient world.
From my latest piece at Culture11, remembering the First World War.
Presumably this means that Ferguson is reasonably comfortable with Obama's foreign policy views. Given Niall's own positions, one might think this likely to disconcert some of Obama's more "progressive" supporters while, of course, also confirming the paleocon view that there's much less between the candidates' foreign policy "vision" (which is not to be confused with jjudgement and temperament) than is generally thought the case.
Then again, Niall likes to think of himself as a 19th - or 18th - century liberal, so it's no great surprise that he doesn't have an obvious home in either party at present. Of course, Colossus argued that, in the end, the United States didn't have the stomach to do empire properly. I don't suspect he really thinks this will change under Obama, but, rather, Obama's upside is greater than McCain's and his downside, in foreign policy terms at least, no lower.
Rod uses the anniversary of the Battle of Lepanto to give Chesterton an airing. Grand stuff. But Mr Dreher also has this to say:
Today is the anniversary of the Battle of Lepanto, the 1571 grand naval battle that saved Europe from Ottoman Turkish conquest. The victory -- one of the greatest ever in naval warfare -- was credited by Pope Pius V to the intercession of the Virgin Mary, who'd received countless rosaries in petition for the victory of Christian forces and the protection of Christian Europe from Islamic conquest. Today, then, is the feast of Our Lady of the Rosary among Catholic Christians. Europe wouldn't be free of the Turkish threat for good until the Battle of Vienna in 1683.
If you have a glass to lift tonight, raise it in thanksgiving to God, the Virgin and the West's naval commanders, especially Don John of Austria.
Well, up to a point. Yes, Lepanto was an important, even vital, victory for the Holy League (even if the fruits of victory were, typically, squandered). And yes you may say that Lepanto severely curtailed Ottoman activity in the mediterranean and you may also say that this was a dashed fine thing.
But it is also the case that the Ottoman "threat" to western - or Christian - Europe was vastly overstated. One can readily understand why many people presumed otherwise at the time and thought that there was indeed a potential for a Muslim reconquista (so to speak) but, that empathy notwithstanding, this was not really the case.
Why? The age-old realities of manpower and supply lines. The Ottoman army was a seasonal army. It relied upon troops from the Balkans who were only available during the summer months. Each autumn they had to return to their farms to, well, tend their flocks and do what farmers have to do. And in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries this meant that, by the time forces had been mustrered and begun the journey towards Vienna, it was too late and in fact simply impossible for them to reach Vienna in time for more than a few weeks' siege before they had to depart for home.
In other words, the Ottoman threat was more psychological than it was real. True, this is a judgement that has the value of hindsight and true too, psychological appearances can - and sometimes maybe even should - have an impact upon how one acts. One can readily understand why Vienna was at risk and why this served as a rallying call to Christendom. But in truth the "risk" was much lower than it seemed at the time.
I do not mean to impute any ill-motive to Rod, but I sometimes wonder if much of the froth about the "Arabification" of Europe these days may be not so much more than a repeat of this past anti-Ottoman sensation. Of course, as always, I may well be wrong.
Equally, I suspect that Rod and I would have to disagree on the extent of the Virgin's contribution to the victory at Lepanto. (Though I concede she could have played a role in boosting morale.)
I mentioned some of the factors that make Jim Webb, the Democratic Senator from Virginia, a less than entirely compelling Vice-Presidential pick for Barack Obama, here. To recap: when he campaigned for the Senate in 2006 Webb was, not to put too fine a point on it, hopeless on the campaign trail. You could see that it pained him to even ask people to vote for him and he plainly had little patience for the self-abasement and daily humiliations of life on the campaign trail. He is not a natural baby-kisser. My sense - from his own writing and what I've read about him - is that he is also difficult, stubborn, awkward, cussed and not to be trifled with. these too may not be attributes best-suited to a national campaign in the modern political era.
What he is, however, is something more important: he's clearly his own man and, crucially in this political era, a man one can respect even - or especially - if one disagrees with him (eg, on trade). There is, to use the word that came to dominate his 2006 Senate campaign, an authenticity to Webb that most politicians would chew their right arm off to possess. That is to say, I'd trust that Jim Webb had come to a decision honestly and because he considered it the wisest, most appropriate cause of action, not because a focus group or political calculation had persuaded him it was the most advantageous way forward. This would be true, I think, even in areas of disagreement. Perhaps especially so. In other words, I think he acts in good faith which is, in the end, all one can ask of any politician.
And so there's something compelling to the idea of Vice-President Webb. The political considerations first: the Democrats have no other plausible candidate with anything like Webb's military experience. At the very least one might think Obama could ask Webb to be a Shadow Secretary of Defense in advance of nominating him to the post after the election. Sure, Webb was a Republican until recently, but in addition to the Navy Cross, Silver Star, two Bronze Stars and two Purple Hearts he won in Vietnam he served as Secretary of the Navy in the Reagan administration. He also, and vitally from a Democratic point of view, opposed the Iraq War for reasons that, alas, look more cogent than ever.
That he resigned from Reagan's Pentagon on a point of principle (opposing cuts to the Navy) also a) stamps him as a man the US military ought not to be afraid of and b) marks him as a man cut from different cloth to that customarily worn by politicians today. Clearly, however, his presence on the Presidential ticket would go some way towards reassuring some voters that Obama's national security team is not going to be wet behind the ears and that there'll be no repeat of the drift and squandered opportunities of the Clinton years. Webb won't be learning on the job.
Secondly, even allowing for the truth that Webb could probably not have won Virginia without George Allen's self-immolation it remains the case that Virginia is trending Democratic and Webb's presence on the ticket could conceivably help Obama win the Commonwealth's 14 electoral college votes. Pinching states from the opposition is no small thing.
But really Webb's appeal as a running-mate is greater than that and greater too than the prospect of his being able to compensate, to some extent anyway, for John McCain's appeal to working-class white men. It's not hard to imagine Webb helping the ticket in virginia, Tennessee and Kentucky, to say nothing of the benefits his populism could potentially have in states such as Pennsylvania and Ohio. He may, in fact, be just the sort of culturally conservative and genuine Democrat Obama needs to balance his ticket.
It's an election, of course, so no card must be left un-played. Nonetheless, there's something a little unseemly about trying to exploit war crimes and massacres for personal, political gain. In fact it's grotesque. I assume this press release* was supposed to appeal to Polish-Americans in Ohio.
Statement from Senator Hillary Clinton
“We will soon mark the 68th anniversary of the Katyn Massacre of Polish prisoners during World War II.
“This is a time to remember the victims of the Katyn massacre and also to reflect on the importance of remembrance itself. Only by preserving the memory of past inhumanities can we hope to avoid inhumanity in the future. Only by seeking the truth about the past can we be confident about our pursuit of peace and justice today.
“On March 5, 1940, Stalin's Politburo gave the order for the Soviet secret police to execute more than 22,000 Polish POWs in cold blood. This horrific mass murder was covered up by the Soviet authorities and denied for decades until Mikhail Gorbachev finally admitted the truth and Boris Yeltsin aided the international investigations by opening the Russian archives.
“I am concerned that the pace of Russian cooperation has slowed drastically under President Putin. The Russian government, which had promised to hand over personal records of the victims and other information about Katyn, has been dragging its feet and has reclassified many of the files. All the relevant archives should be opened up in the interest of establishing the full truth about Katyn.
“The crimes were committed long ago, but we cannot and we shall not forget.
“I believe that it is highly fitting that a historical film about the massacre titled "Katyn" and created by the acclaimed Polish director Andrej Wajda was nominated for an Academy Award as best foreign film in 2008. Mr. Wajda's father was himself a victim of the Katyn massacre.
“I have profound respect for the Polish nation and for all the peoples of Eastern Europe who have emerged from the darkness of the 20th century. I am proud that in our time the United States has been their partner and ally.”
I mean, really, what does Hillary Clinton know about Katyn? Does anyone really believe this release oozes sincerity? It's cheap and it's exploitative.
It's also stupid. Does Clinton not realise that the Russians aren't the only people who covered-up the massacres? On at least three occasions the United States denied Soviet guilt, attributing the killings to the Nazis. Of course, there were plenty of good, even unstoppable, reasons for holding to that line. But we knew the truth as early as 1943 and continued to deny it for years. At least Churchill had the grace to feel guilty about this.
As much as any other event in the war, Katyn reminds us that, contrary to the feel-good depictions of the "Greatest Generation" and all the rest of it, the Second World War was not anything like as clear-cut a moral case of Good vs Evil as we like to remember. Germany needed to be defeated, but the price paid to defeat Nazism included sacrificing Poland - the very country whose independence we (Britain, that is) had gone to war to defend in the first place. This irony was not lost on British officers in Germany in 1945. That there were few, if any, alternatives to this gruesome outcome does nothing to diminish the Faustian pact we made with the Soviet Union.
However justifiably - in the pitiless frame of reference sanctioned by the war - the United States was not Poland's "partner and ally" in 1945. I'm not quite sure why Hillary Clinton wants to remind Polish-Americans of this.
So, there you have it: a stupid and an unseemly campaign, trying to cash in on the memory of some of the grimmest events of the War. Classy stuff..
(If Obama issued a press release of this sort, I haven't seen it.)
*Thanks to reader MC for the tip.
Ross and Rod despair, quite naturally, over this poll asking American teenagers to name the "10 Most Famous Americans". Presidents and First Ladies were excluded from the poll. It's an illuminating view of how American history is taught these days. anyway, The results were:
1. Martin Luther King Jr.: 67%
2. Rosa Parks: 60%
3. Harriet Tubman: 44%
4. Susan B. Anthony: 34%
5.Benjamin Franklin: 29%
6. Amelia Earhart: 25%
7. Oprah Winfrey: 22%
8. Marilyn Monroe: 19%
9. Thomas Edison: 18%
10. Albert Einstein: 16%
Interesting that only MLK and Rosa Parks received the endorsement of more than 50% of high school students. I suspect that most kids, however, thought they should respond "seriously" and consider who might be the most "significant" Americans, rather than those merely "famous". Then again, perhaps OJ Simpson is ancient history to teenagers these days.
Still, Ross mutters "O tempora, o mores" over this:
The study acknowledges that the emphasis on African-American figures by the schools leaves behind not only 18th- and 19th-century figures but others as well, such as Hispanic icon Cesar Chavez, Native American heroes such as Pocahontas and Sacagawea and labor leaders such as Samuel Gompers and Eugene V. Debs.
Yeah, not enough Samuel Gompers...
Since parlour games of this sort are always entertaining, here's my own off-the-top-of-the-head alternative list of non-Presidential Famous/Significant Americans who did not appear in the high schoolers' top ten. In no particular order:
George S Patton
William Randolph Hearst
Robert E Lee
Sitting Bull/Geronimo/Crazy Horse
This is a depressing paragraph:
William Wallace was a failure who only won one key battle; Robert the Bruce was a usurper struggling to retain power; Scotland was a willing entrant into the Act of Union. Such claims will infuriate nationalists and unionists alike when the BBC seeks to explode myths in Scottish history in a landmark series.
It is, of course, depressing that such judgments might be considered "controversial". Why they should infuriate anyone remains a mystery given that they are, well, true.
I don't think I need re-iterate my objections to the Braveheart fetish. Suffice it to say that it is all too typical that we should concentrate upon the noble failure (Wallace) rather than the complex - and oft conflicted - victor (Bruce). What one may say for Wallace is that he made Bruce possible. That's no small medal to wear; equally one may recognise Bruce's greatness while acknowledging that the manner in which he came to power was at best messy and, quite possibly, illegitimate.
Similarly, the most depressing - and, for that matter, witless - argument for independence is that it would right some (imagined) historical wrong. The Union was formed - albeit in pressing, difficult times - as a matter of national interest; the argument for its end, or survival, rests on precisely the same consideration of what may be in Scotland's best interests in the future. Sentiment and custom should have a role, but not a veto, in this.
Nonetheless, the most depressing feature of all is that ay of this needs to be pointed out at all. But then history is a messier affair than most people like to imagine.
As part of its rather odd Call Yourself British campaign The Daily Telegraph has sent the novelist Andrew O'Hagan to tour the country and take its temperature. There'll be plenty to say about this over the next few days. But, beginning in Edinburgh, O'Hagan writes:
Despite the work of centuries, an intellectual Enlightenment, an Industrial Revolution, the formation and decline of Empire, and two world wars, Scotland still feels nervous of its relationship with England, the same nervousness that Defoe objected to and hoped might have come to an end as he walked up the High Street in the 1720s. But to make that journey today is to fall into step with the revival of an old song: when will the Union be over?
I arrived in Edinburgh with what might be called a natural resistance to the conditions of that song. Britain is a small series of islands; we have achieved much together; and to be a unity, while retaining our distinctive character, seems to me a beautiful idea.
I am Scottish and I grew up believing – in the face of superstition, and chants – that England and Scotland brought out the best in one another. I find it easy to be both Scottish and British, happily dualistic, and small nations being excessively proud of themselves (a new European habit) has no special fascination. It seems as lunatic to me as the argument of Southern Confederates in America, who feel they were betrayed by Abraham Lincoln.
But the old song wasn't about the survival of the Union, but about Scotland's survival as an independent nation. After all, ideas for Union had been bandied about for hundreds of years before the formal dissolution of the Scots parliament in 1707. (That is, the idea of Union bubbled up from time to time independently of the - tiresome - English desire for incorporation.)
Also: who are these small nations that are "excessively proud of themselves"? Are no large nations afflicted by this sin? Or are they entitled to their pride? Must small nations be inherently ridiculous? Rum. And hooey.
Still, it's more interesting that O'Hagan links the modern independence cause with the Confederacy. This isn't quite as odd as it might seem at first blush (though I'd also suggest that if it is impossible to leave a Union then that Union is, ipso facto, to some degree coercive rather than voluntary).
It's certainly the case, if I may generalise, that American conservatives tend to be more interested in Scotland than liberals. I should have ceased to be surprised by the number of Americans (and other foreigners) who say they are waiting for Scottish independence. Many, perhaps most, of these sympathisers are conservatives.
In part this may reflect the settlement patterns of Scots in the Carolinas and Appalachia which these days ensures that those most likely to appreciate their Scottish heritage are also, on balance, more likely to be conservatives than liberals. But it's also the case that the idea of Scotland has a cultural resonance in the south - or amongst some conservatives - that it lacks in New England.
Granted, it was the Californian John Steinbeck who told Jackie Kennedy (of all people!), “You talked of Scotland as a lost cause and that is not true. Scotland is an unwon cause.” But his sentiments are in tune with a romantic view of Scotland's history that has something in common with a certain view of the American south and, perhaps, a certain wistful strain of American conservatism.
That's the view that's encouraged by the (loathsome) Braveheart - a movie which has become a favourite of whatever remains of what one might term the neo-Confederate movement.
More positively, one might recall that Sir Walter Scott was the most popular novelist in the antebellum south. That should not be a great surprise: on the one hand a novel such as Ivanhoe could appeal to southern ideas of chivalry; on the other Scott's Scottish novels concern the struggle to marry tradition with modernity and to find a union between past and present that satisfies the memory of the past with the demands of the present day. Progress might be inevitable and, on balance, a good thing, but it can be a melancholy business that tears the heart, accompanied, of course, by the strains of an old lament.
So from whence springs the conservative fascination with Scotland? Steinbeck is only half right; it's not merely that Scotland is unwon but the conditions that create the need for an old lament that matter. The particular poignancy of the Scottish cause - and why it has a surprising power outside of Scotland, not merely in the United States but in France or Germany too - stems, I think, from the fact that, contrary to popular imagination, it was a cause that was given up more or less voluntarily. It didn't have to happen. There's poignancy to that melancholy reflection. One may go so far as to approve the result of the Jacobite wars even whole regretting the manner in which it was done (and they were, of course, Scottish civil wars as much as they were a matter of Scotland vs England).
In other words, the Jacobite cause is reactionary in the best sense of the term (and proudly so: I have one American froend whose personal email address begins, jacobite1688). To some extent this remains the case. The atavistic nationalism O'Hagan discovers is far removed from the sober calculation of the national interest favoured by the SNP's smart-suited Young Turks in Edinburgh. Yet the latter requires the former, even if the former cannot prevail absent the latter.
All this may seem some way removed from modern Scotland. But it isn't really. The age-old wrestling match between heart and head has not been resolved yet. Or rather, to be accurate, it has been rejoined.
There's much more to be said, of course (I haven't even touched on Brigadoon though it obviously is linked to the matter under discussion). But I'd be interested in what Messrs Larison and Douthat have to say about any of this.
Good grief. The Washington Post reports:
Still looking for that last-minute Christmas gift for White House press secretary Dana Perino? May we recommend a gift certificate for the forthcoming book on the Cuban Missile Crisis by our colleague Michael Dobbs, "One Minute to Midnight: Kennedy, Khrushchev, and Castro on the Brink of Nuclear War," due out next summer?
Appearing on National Public Radio's light-hearted quiz show "Wait, Wait . . . Don't Tell Me," which aired over the weekend, Perino got into the spirit of things and told a story about herself that she had previously shared only in private: During a White House briefing, a reporter referred to the Cuban Missile Crisis -- and she didn't know what it was.
"I was panicked a bit because I really don't know about . . . the Cuban Missile Crisis," said Perino, who at 35 was born about a decade after the 1962 U.S.-Soviet nuclear showdown. "It had to do with Cuba and missiles, I'm pretty sure."
So she consulted her best source. "I came home and I asked my husband," she recalled. "I said, 'Wasn't that like the Bay of Pigs thing?' And he said, 'Oh, Dana.' "
Oh Dana indeed. Equally, hiring a press secretary who doesn't know anything ensures they can't risk blurting out the truth by mistake...
[Hat-tip, Isaac Chotiner]
More Romney, I'm afraid. But this is less about him than it concerns a general American trend. Daniel Larison has already touched on how Romney seems to share Fred Thompson's odd belief in the uniquely generous nature of American military sacrifice. This reminds me that I'd meant to comment upon this passage from Romney's speech:
"Americans acknowledge that liberty is a gift of God, not an indulgence of government. No people in the history of the world have sacrificed as much for liberty. The lives of hundreds of thousands of America's sons and daughters were laid down during the last century to preserve freedom, for us and for freedom loving people throughout the world. America took nothing from that Century's terrible wars – no land from Germany or Japan or Korea; no treasure; no oath of fealty."
Oh please. To listen to this you might think the United States' sole concern was that the people of Europe and, for that matter, south-east asia, had a proper supply of apple pie. No war aims here! Not so much as a single strategic objective!
To say this is poppycock does not detract for a second from the heroism and sacrifice of American soldiers on Omaha Beach or the sands of Iwo Jima (or for that matter of the workers in the factories who made trucks for Uncle Joe).
America took nothing from the Second World War, unless you consider being the world's most powerful - and richest - country nothing at all. As collateral benefits go you'd have to rank these pretty highly.
Except of course it wasn't a collateral benefit. I know that Americans are wedded to this view of their involvement in WW2 (precipitated of course by Japan and Germany) as a selfless, reluctant act. But if this story has any truth it's only part of the matter. Right from the beginning there were other fish being fried.
The Americans were shaping their notion of the post-war environment even before they entered the conflict. The ennobling element of Britain's wartime story is not so much the defiant days when she stood alone (though those, natch, reflect well upon us) but the fact that Britain sacrificed an Empire and, consequently, much of its power to help ensure that the Americans could be persuaded into the war. Victory was impossible without America; but more than blood - or treasure for that matter - was needed to pay the price the Americans demanded. So be it.
For instance, the American view of post-war trade would be, as Cordell Hull put it, "a knife to open that oyster shell, the Empire". At their first meeting, at Placentia Bay in August 1941, Roosevelt viewed Churchill as "A real old Tory, of the old school" but predicted that there'd be plenty of talk about India "And Burma. And Java. And Indo-China. And Indonesia. And all the African colonies. And Egypt and Palestine. We'll talk about 'em all."
The destruction of the British Empire was every bit as much an American war aim as was the defeat of Hitlerism, even if, for obvious reasons, it was rarely explained as such in public.
All of which was, of course, fair enough. The United States can hardly be faulted for acting in its own interest. And its own interest was a post-war world in which it was Top Dog. If that meant doing its best to shut Britain out then so be it. As I say, the only thing wrong with this is pretending that it didn't happen.
(I should perhaps point out that in the grander scheme of things, the American view of unfettered free trade (though good for American industry) was probably preferable to the British hankering for Imperial Preference. But that's not the point really.)
Nor does it - to repeat - detract from the valiant service of American troops to point out that the United states has indeed demanded fealty and, for that matter, sovereignty. What else are US bases around the world if not the outposts of Empire?
The US military guarantee to defend western Europe was both noble and self-serving. There isn't necessarily a contradiction between the two. In return for protection against the Soviets western Europe endorsed an American view of the world and its institutions. Still, in important respects NATO is an "alliance" in name only. Until recently Europe's low defence spending suited America (and perhaps still does): after all, if European countries lack the ability to project force then they are al the more dependent upon the US. That's a high-ranking card to have in your hand.
Still, it's not unreasonable to remember that the American guarantee of liberty was a guarantee that would only be observed on American terms. To take but one example, the Italian elections of 1948 could not be "free and fair" because they carried the risk that the Communists might do well. Now Italian politics might have been corrupted anyway, but the US-backed 40 year installation of the Christian Democrats certainly helped pollute the Italian body politic. You may argue that this was better than the alternative but that doesn't mean you need pretend that all this was perfect or that it somehow matched American rhetoric. Hypocrisy is, of course, an old imperial vice. (Or, if you prefer, virtue).
Just because th US involvement in Europe (and elsewhere) has been, overall, beneficial doesn't mean we shouldn't pretend that drawbacks and unfortunate consequences don't exist. On the risky assumption that we can be grown-up about these things there's little need for pretense or humbug.
Equally, Romney's "no fealty" line is complete hokum. Perhaps he has forgotten that much of the fury directed towards Jacques Chirac in the lead-up to the Iraq War was predicated upon the idea that, after all we did for France it's outrageous that they don't support us now that we ask them to 60 years later. That sounds like a demand for fealty to me.
So sure, America took nothing from the last century's terrible wars. Nothing, that is, except the American Century itself.
Tyne Cot Cemetery, Paschendaele, Flanders.
James Fallows' blog is normally a treat. But in the midst of slapping Congress for the supposed foolishness and self-indulgence of the Armenian genocide resolution he writes this (emphasis added):
Why not go all the way? How about a resolution condemning China for the millions who suffered in the Cultural Revolution and the tens of millions starved during the Great Leap Forward – right as we’re seeking China’s help on Burma, North Korea, the environment, etc? I mean, for each Armenian the Ottoman Turks slaughtered, at least ten Chinese citizens perished at the hands of the regime whose successors still rule the country. And the government's official stance of denial is just about as strong. So, why not just tell them they were evil? The timing would be especially nice during China's current Party Congress.
I'm sure we could get a unanimous vote for a resolution condemning North Korea for any of a hundred grievous offenses; that would be a good complement to the recent nuclear deal. Why not one denouncing Russia for the Czarist pogroms, to accompany efforts to reason with/rein in Putin? Maybe another condemning England for its subjugation and slaughter of the Scots, to say nothing of the Irish – while also asking Gordon Brown to stay the course in Iraq? What about Australia for its historic treatment of the Aborigines? Or the current nations of West Africa for their role in the slave trade?
Can I ask, what subjugation? What slaughter? After all, the Wars of Independence ended at Bannockburn nearly 700 years ago. Since then it's hard to see how or when Scotland has been subjugated to England. As for slaughtering, well, Henry VIII's Rough Wooing (and the destruction of the magnificent Border abbeys) was an unpleasant piece of work but it scarcely counts as something comparable to the other examples of ill-treatment Fallowes lists.
The one instance, I suppose, in which Fallowes could be said to be half-right would be the suppression of the Highland clans after the ignominious (but necessary) failure of the '45. It was an ugly, cruel business right enough. But it wasn't something imposed upon Scotland by the English; no, it was a British policy to fortify the internal security of the still-new united kingdom. As such Scots were full and willing partners in the silencing of the glens. The Duke of Cumberland - the Butcher himself - was awarded an honorary degree by Glasgow University in recognition of his efforts at pacifying the Highlands.
How often does it have to be pointed out that more Scots fought against Bonnie Prince Charlie at Culloden than for him? The '45 was more a conflict between highland and lowland Scotland (and hence, in some respects, between tradition and the emerging idea of modernity) than it was a struggle between Scotland and England (had the English Jacobites not quite sensibly appreciated that the old song had long since ended, the trans-border nature of the enterprise would be better understood today).
Why does this matter? Because if we're to have an honest discussion of the country's future it would be best to understand its past first. One of the odder things one notices when overseas is that when the subject of blaming many of the world's problems upon the legacy of the British Empire the ex-patriot Scot is assured that, naturally, this complaint only applies to the English. It's as though we're given a Get Out of Jail Card despite the fact that, as you know, Scots were enthusiastic empire-builders who played a hugely disproportionate role in turning the world map pink.
To pretend otherwise is delusional. Equally, the case for independence should be made on its merits, advancing the argument that it's in the national interest. It shouldn't be indulged as an act of self-pity or because it rectifies some imagined historical wrong. The myth of a subjugated Scotland is just that. Or, if you prefer to insist that Scots were victims, at least acknowledge that they were victims of other Scots, not the English (who for the most part couldn't care less about much that happened north of the border).
But pretending otherwise feeds and reinforces the unfortunate national predilections for self-pity, a chippy sense of victimhood and an resentful nursing of imaginary grievance*.
*In fairness, it ought to be said that one of the arguments in favour of independence (and one deployed y some nationalists themselves) is that it would put an end to this nonsense, forcing Scotland to, well, grow-up.
Reasons why jailing David Irving for "Holocaust Denial" was a bad idea, cont.: It allows Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to say that clearly there must be something to this point of view if "researchers" can be imprisoned for pursuing research from a "different perspective". And, of course, implicitly he's arguing that despite all your fancy, high-falutin' talk, you in the west are no better than the rest of us. You censor too. Tend to the beam in your own eye before looking to the mote in mine etc etc.