The distortion of history – Part 1

When I was taught in primary school about the ‘Black Hole of Calcutta,’ I was sceptical. No subject people would be so silly as to invite terrible retaliation. My parents agreed. Perhaps that indicated my innate attitude to accept placidly that which is unavoidable, while I went about improving my position in the manner of an ant on a river embankment.

An ant can cause the bank of a river to collapse, simply by making enough holes in it. White-ants behind the walls of a building can also achieve changes in structure. In this context, I recall Subhas Chandra Bose addressing an audience of Indians and Ceylonese on a small ‘padang’ (open ground surrounded by houses, used by us to play soccer) outside my home in Japanese military-occupied Malaya. With support from Japanese officialdom, Bose was like that proverbial ant.

In a curriculum drawn up for school students in Britain, I saw what I felt had to be some distortion of historical events, especially with wars between sundry dukes (and other ducks, as we boys said) in Britain, and elsewhere in Europe. So much war between tiny principalities and tribal states.

At age 13, a relative gave me a copy of Nehru’s ‘Glimpses of World History.’ Each night for about 15 months, I read a chapter to my parents. That was a valuable introduction to my observation of history – both past and in-the-making. I learned to seek broad patterns in events, in terms of motivations and hidden bias.

I hasten to add that I did receive a sound education. My core subjects were English, maths, science, geography (a spatial perspective), history (events over time), and Latin. In primary school (only 5 hours/day), beginning at age 7 (as in modern Finland), we practiced solving problems mentally and learning phonetically. A whole-of-word approach was necessary only with a few words like Cholmondeley – a.k.a ‘chumley’; but we were not allowed to treat Bottomly as ‘bumly.’ Our teachers had been well trained in Britain.

History is the main domain of study subject to my scepticism. A recent war of historiography in Australia brought out the chasms in conclusions caused by cultural conditioning: the ‘black-armband’ perspective contested by a glossy ‘multiculturalism following settlement’ smugness. No invasion, no killing, no destruction of Aboriginal cultures, only an empty land; an alternative is – the indigene ‘ceded’ the land. Just like the Palestinians ceding their homes and farms!

Why hide the truth? Eventually you will be exposed. Indeed, what is education in history about?