In The Uses and Abuses of History, historian Margaret MacMillan gives examples of ways that political and military leaders have manipulated interpretations of history to further their agenda, often with catastrophic impact on lives and freedom. It flowed naturally from The United States of Japan, but it also called up a lot of the same themes as Lessing’s Prisons and Atwood’s Survival.
The audiobook was lovely to listen to, but I’ll confess that it’s a pretty heavy topic that I whipped through casually. Her writing on the aboriginal land claims in the Canadian context deserves a re-read of the print version, because I’m not sure if I heard what she was saying correctly. It seemed as though she was dismissing truth and reconciliation on the basis that “if every group of people that has been wronged asks for restitution, society will never get anywhere.” I can’t believe that’s what she was actually saying, given the tone of the rest of the book.
There’s really one, overarching point: history lessons are manipulated, so people should look for facts to support their beliefs. The strongest arguments in the book deal with mistakes and injustices that political leaders make when they choose to ignore (or be ignorant of) history.
That’s where the book most strongly echoes Lessing and where MacMillian’s anecdotes are most compelling.
Another telling of history …