B S Raghavan

History inspires hope for the future

B.S.RAGHAVAN | Updated on July 03, 2012

Queen Elizabeth of Britain publicly shaking hands with Martin McGuinness, former senior commander of the Irish Republican Army (IRA), during her visit to Belfast last week has hit the headlines round the globe in a big way. And no wonder. McGuinness, now Ireland’s Deputy First Minister, along with Gerry Adams (who also has now joined the mainstream political power structure), was regarded the most dreaded terrorist.

He was responsible for blowing up and killing hundreds in the sectarian war that raged in Ireland for more than a quarter of a century. His victims included Lord Mountbatten, the last Viceroy of India, the Queen’s cousin and Prince Philip’s uncle, whose boat was blown up in 1979. He was, in fact, known in those days as the Butcher of the Bogside. Ironically, McGuinness himself is now the target of threats from Irish hotheads who refuse to have anything to do with Britain, and who, certainly, have found the hand-shake a loathsome gesture.

I am not into Irish politics now. My purpose in mentioning the event was to point out the one supreme lesson that history holds for humankind — which is that the world and life keep moving on to sunny uplands from what was at the time assumed to be a dark bottomless abyss. Indeed, conflicts and wars over issues and disputes that were thought to be irreconcilable and have absolutely no meeting ground whatsoever have now become mere memories or been totally forgotten.

TINY SLIVER

Deriving from it is the lesson that it will be monumental foolishness on the part of any person in possession of a modicum of thinking faculties to remain fixated or frozen in his positions and opinions as if they are of eternal validity.

I can do no better than start with Alsace-Lorrain. I won’t be surprised if one could count on the fingers of one’s hand the number of readers of this column who can honestly claim to know what it is, what it stands for and what it is all about. I am even prepared to offer a wager if someone could point it in the map!

And yet, it was a tiny sliver of a territory on the border between France and Germany over which the German Empire and the Kingdom of France fought from the 15th to 18th century. The people underwent immense suffering being tossed back and forth between the two countries. It was also the cause of turmoil in the whole of Europe.

Fast forward to the 20th century. Think of all that looked ever-lasting and intractable, of which we thought we would never ever see the end, at least not in our life time.

The British Empire on which the Sun was never supposed to set, the Colonies into which the European powers had divided the world among themselves, segregation in the US, apartheid, Berlin Wall, Cold War, Israel-Palestine wars, the spectre of the Soviet Union that kept the Western nations in constant jitters, the boycott of China and the vetoing of its admission to the UN by the US for a period of nearly 25 years after the Second World War: Does anyone remember now the intensity of feelings and animosities they aroused at the time?

MAGNIFICENT EXAMPLE

That is why I often recite to myself Alfred Tennyson’s immortal lines in his In Memoriam: ‘Oh yet we trust that somehow good will be the final goal of ill’ and that ‘good shall fall / At last, far off, at last, to all, / And every winter change to spring’.

It is from that standpoint that we should approach seemingly insoluble conflicts in which nations are embroiled, such as the tensions between India and Pakistan, the border dispute between China and India, China’s claims in regard to South China Sea, or even terrorism. For instance, as regards the last, there is the magnificent example of Punjab where, barely 30 years ago, the situation was at its worst.

History inspires the hope that with tolerance and goodwill on the part of opinion leaders and decision makers of every nation, there is no problem that cannot and will not be solved. Knowing that this is so, isn’t it stupid of us to be rigid and stubborn in the stands we take?

Published on July 03, 2012

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