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Author Topic: Most annoying historical myths?  (Read 17799 times)

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Offline White Wolf

Re: Most annoying historical myths?
« Reply #150 on: October 22, 2013, 08:04:03 PM »
I'm almost too nervous to type this out, as I actually got into a massive argument with somebody in college last week on this topic, but, hailing from the Republic of Ireland, there are a number of major lies we are told at school about our history and our relationship with the United Kingdom....and I'd like to voice them! Hahaha.

1. We are led to believe that Ireland as a nation never existed before 1916.

I'm sorry, but that's fundamentally false. This lie is actually two birds with one stone - not only did an Irish nation exist, but it wasn't in a constant state of open rebellion against Britain either (more on that below). The first MAJOR Irish uprising, the Confederate Wars, was actually fought by a group who swore allegiance to the King of England on behalf of the Kingdom of Ireland - Irishmen, in other words, happy to live under English rule, despite everything we are led to believe. In the 1700s the most prominent force in Irish politics was the Irish Patriot Party - a party which believed that Ireland should have a strong self-identity and use that strength to better benefit the British Empire as a whole. Two examples of Irish nationalist thinking that did NOT involve open rebellion against British rule, and proved that there was a very strong idea of Irishness that existed, not in spite of, but ALONGSIDE the Irish identity as being British.

2. We are given mistaken beliefs about Ireland's revolutionary leaders.

This is another concept that's actually two points in one - first off, the founder of the idea of Irish Republicanism, Theobald Wolfe Tone, is portrayed as a mighty Irish hero who led Catholics and Protestants alike in a glorious rebellion for form a republic on the island of Ireland. The reality couldn't be further from the truth; Wolfe Tone was an agent of Revolutionary France who was attempting to overbalance Britain by inviting a French invasion of Ireland during the opening stages of the war. Yes, it's true, had the United Irish Rebellion succeeded Wolfe Tone would have created an Irish Republic - but it would have been one of many republics France established in Europe during the wars, at the mercy of the psychotic French Reign of Terror. Hardly a glorious rebellion against the forces of foreign evil, when you think of it like that.

The second point involves the execution of the leaders of the 1916 Rising - the single most important rebellion in Irish history before the War of Independence and the Troubles. Basically, on Easter Monday, 1916, Irish rebels occupied buildings throughout Dublin and declared the Irish Republic was now a sovereign independent state. They were crushed the very next week by the British Army. The leaders were rounded up and summarily executed for treason. The public outcry was so deafening, it led to the formation of the Irish Republican Army (the IRA) and the War of Independence. As we learn about these events in school, we are likewise led to believe that this was a cruel and unjustified act that showed off the brutal maltreatment we suffered at the hands of an evil empire, and justified the War of Independence that quickly followed. What we AREN'T made to realise is that the rising took place slap bang in the middle of World War One; the Irish rebels were funded and armed by the German Empire. What they did, as citizens of the UK, was nothing short of wartime treason - the penalty for which is death, in ANY country.

Which brings me to the final notion that is woefully misconceived...

3. During the War of Independence the Irish Republican Army was a valiant, heroic band of rebels who bore no similarities to the far more renowned and terrifying Provisional IRA of Northern Irish fame.

This is false. There's no other way to begin but; this is false. Everyone knows what the IRA is; even if you know NOTHING about Irish history you've probably been told "The IRA are terrorists," and you're happy with that assumption. That's fine; it's a perfectly reasonable belief. During the Troubles in Northern Ireland the Provisional IRA carried out THOUSANDS of indiscriminate bombings and shootings that killed almost as many civilians as it did legitimate military and paramilitary targets. In a bid to distance itself from the impossible grey area of trying to decide whether the Provisionals were terrorists or freedom fighters, the Irish education system has instead drove a huge wedge between the Troubles and the War of Independence. That would be, the IRA from 1916 - 1922 is GOOD, the IRA from 1922 - Present Day is BAD. And that's all we are taught we need to know.

The reality is the IRA during our War of Independence carried out as many blatantly sectarian murders as did their Provisional forebears; the entire Protestant population of County Cork (in the far south of Ireland) was either burnt out of their homes, or killed outright. It's a bitter pill to swallow for many contemporary Irish folk - especially those who utterly condemn the Provisionals, mostly from the comfort of their southern armchair-Republican homes - but the IRA has always been, and always will be, a moral grey area AT THE VERY BEST.

...

I'm sorry for the randomness of this post; I realise Irish history isn't something that many people know or care about, but, I had to get some of that off my chest and it felt great to vent! Thanks for reading this far :P

Offline gaggedLouise

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Re: Most annoying historical myths?
« Reply #151 on: October 22, 2013, 10:00:16 PM »
Quote from: LittleWhiteWolfy
The second point involves the execution of the leaders of the 1916 Rising - the single most important rebellion in Irish history before the War of Independence and the Troubles. Basically, on Easter Monday, 1916, Irish rebels occupied buildings throughout Dublin and declared the Irish Republic was now a sovereign independent state. They were crushed the very next week by the British Army. The leaders were rounded up and summarily executed for treason. The public outcry was so deafening, it led to the formation of the Irish Republican Army (the IRA) and the War of Independence. As we learn about these events in school, we are likewise led to believe that this was a cruel and unjustified act that showed off the brutal maltreatment we suffered at the hands of an evil empire, and justified the War of Independence that quickly followed. What we AREN'T made to realise is that the rising took place slap bang in the middle of World War One; the Irish rebels were funded and armed by the German Empire. What they did, as citizens of the UK, was nothing short of wartime treason - the penalty for which is death, in ANY country.


Well, I'm not from Ireland or the UK, but it's widely known how inflamed the issues you brought up still are, almost a century after Ireland won independence. I'd say the question of the easter rebels committing treason by making their stand in the middle of an imperial war and, as you see it, aiming to stab Britain in the back, that one is ultimately about the legitimacy of English rule in Ireland. And I mean legitimacy in the sense of people in Ireland seeing it as rightful, just, something long-term good for Ireland and for themselves as Irish, not simply 'legitimacy' in the sense of some old treaties or rituals declaring that the island was now British or English. Peace treaties and capitulations are obviously imposed lots of times, what they declare often isn't any matter of free choices by those who signed them.

Most British (meaning people living in England and Scotland, but not on Ireland) in the 19th and early 20th century looked upon Ireland as a colony, and assumed it would always remain a colony, a subjugated country, a backwater. The Irish language was excluded from the state and from public life (schools, courts, business, etc), the Irish as people were seen as ignorant and half barbarian, still half living in the middle ages and, of course, catholic. I think most historians today, in the UK and beyond, would agree that Ireland and the Irish were being exploited and that London and the English upper classes regarded it as a serf country. And if it's viewed as that kind of very imbalanced relationship, enforced on the Irish by military strength, then rebellion was justifiable.

It's not unique, either, to have a rebellion against an empire in the middle of a major war that's taxing the strength of said empire. In Finland they did exactly the same thing around the same time, only it was much better organized and they were spared most of the fighting against the Russian army when, out of the blue, revolution broke out in St.Petersburg in March 1917 and toppled the Tsar. At that time the war (where Russia was allied with France and Britain against Germany and the Central powers) was going frightfully badly and millions of Russian troops had been killed or taken captive. Conditions in Finland were fairly peaceful on the surface and because of the special status of the country under Russia, Finns were not being called up for service, but the movement for independence had been going on for decades and during the war, there was an underground network of Finnish students and patriots making contact with Germany, leading to a regular traffic of Finns going to Germany for secret military training and arms, explosives and illegal resistance leaflets being smuggled into Finland. The aim of the Germans, of course, was to have a Finnish revolt that would inflict serious damage on Russia, create a friendly nation state on the northern shore of the Baltic and allow for a powerful German offensive right at St.Petersburg, forcing Russia to a humiliating peace and kicking her out of the war. (In the end they got most of those aims, but were unable to make use of these gains during the final year of the war).

The point is, support from Germany was the choice of this underground network of Finnish patriots and politicians. They took the line that "my enemy's enemy is my friend" and anyway they felt more trust and sympathy for Germany than for Russia. They were a relatively small group in numbers - many more than the easter rebels though - and legally it was treason of course. But there was a widespread view in Finland at the time that Russia had become just an oppressor, it wasn't the kind of country people wanted to be a part of, and its policies of putting down expressions of Finnish nationality, culture and institutions had been growing stronger in the early years of the 20th century. Many people wanted out, wanted not to have their country's future linked up with Russia, but when a country is being held down by open military force, conditions are tough and it doesn't look like the overlord is beginning to get pushed down, open resistance is most often something only a few people will get into: it's very dangerous, it has to be carried out in secret and with people that are trusted, and the time for a firm, open offensive hasn't come yet.

In the end, the "hunter bands" of Finland didn't have to start their own street rebellion by making assaults against a powerful Russian army and police. After the tsar had been pushed aside in the late winter of 1917 (something Lenin and the Bolsheviks, by the way, had nothing to do with) Russia stayed in the war but was already hanging on the ropes. Things were growing more and more chaotic, in the capital, on the front and around the empire, so the Finnnish were half left to themselves to begin preparing to make the final breakway from Russia. There was no real capacity from the new governments in Petersburg, or from their cohorts in Helsinki, to make any tough crackdowns on people who were discussing Finnish independence or importing munitions and combat arms and even raiding Russian army posts or putting up nationalist posters. When Lenin (who was also getting support from the Germans!) had to go underground for a while in the summer of 1917, he fled to Finland and for a while he actually stayed with...the chief of a Finnish police volunteer force in Helsinki, who of course didn't tell the Russians that he had a man they wanted in his house. ;D


Once Lenin had taken over in St.Petersburg, Russian domination was not going to be an issue at all, unless old Russia was saved by a miracle and restored. The committee for a free Finland (the government in making, kind of, and representing the lawful parliament of the country) actually sent their emissaries to the capital to tell Petersburg that they were demanding independence in late October - they left Helsinki a day or so before Lenin's coup started in the capital and arrived there a day or two after the showdown at the Winter Palace was over - the run-down times meant that travel was slow at the best of times - and the capital was, again, in a chaos with armoured cars and roaming crowds of people on the streets. They didn't get to see any of the major Bolsheviks in all this chaos - didn't know them, anyway - and quietly returned home, but they were aware that the new guys were not interested in sticking hard to the old borders of Russia. A month later, on December 7, they declared independence without waiting to flesh anything out with the Bolshevik government. They knew there wasn't going to be any major resistance from the Russian military units that were still around in Finland anyway,. When they sent a delegation to St:Petersburg to get their move recognized by the new leaders, a week or two later, the matter fell to a junior party bureaucrat called Josef Stalin and he signed the papers without any serious trouble.

So, had the help from the Germans paid off? Definitely. There hadn't been a lot of open fighting between the Finnish and the weakened Russian armed forces - there were some clashes and acts of sabotage, and I think some Russian officials were "convinced" to give in with the help of a small band of armed men. But the weapons and training provided for free by Berlin had anyway given a sense of being able to take charge if it would be needed in a tight situation, and what's more, they had provided the nucleus of a new Finnish army and police force (soon to be joined by some high-ranking officers who had been actrve in the Russian army).

See, all of this was plainly illegal by the laws and constitutions that were in effect in 1914-16, and for many years before; and the people who were involved were not chosen through any kind of legal election or even from nationally widepread parties. Except for the parliament of Finland - that body had existed already under the Russian era, and the persons sitting there had been voted in by elections a few years before, but they were not the ones who really triggered the move for independence, though they went with it when the revolution had broken out. The military volunteers in 1914-1917 grabbed the opportunity when it began to come into view, and deliberately aimed to widen the option. But the ambition to give Finland some kind of safer, and more self-governing, future was widely supported all around the country, even by Finnish officers serving in the Russian army. Most Finnish people, then and now, would have said (as for then, if they could have spoken about it openly without any fear of reprisals) that the drive for a nation of their own was fully legitimate and that they already had a history as a nation, even if there had never been a free Finnnish state before.
« Last Edit: October 23, 2013, 02:07:49 PM by gaggedLouise »

Offline White Wolf

Re: Most annoying historical myths?
« Reply #152 on: October 23, 2013, 11:04:08 AM »
You're absolutely right in your assessment of how the British felt about the Irish, and vice versa. Don't get me wrong - the Empire was utterly barbaric towards the Irish, and there are schools of thought here that with some justification refer to the Famine as the Irish Holocaust, as there is a lot of evidence to suggest it was, if not caused by, then manipulated by the British to subdue the Irish population.. My issue was simply with Irish people's passion about the subject of the Easter Rising today and, as far as I can see, refusing to really see the big picture of what was going on. I'm in no way shape or form an apologist for all-Ireland Unionism, haha, I just think a bit of modest clarity on some aspects of our history would go a long way in keeping cool heads in the present-day divisions that rock the northeast of this island...

Offline Callie Del Noire

Re: Most annoying historical myths?
« Reply #153 on: October 23, 2013, 11:34:33 AM »
You're absolutely right in your assessment of how the British felt about the Irish, and vice versa. Don't get me wrong - the Empire was utterly barbaric towards the Irish, and there are schools of thought here that with some justification refer to the Famine as the Irish Holocaust, as there is a lot of evidence to suggest it was, if not caused by, then manipulated by the British to subdue the Irish population.. My issue was simply with Irish people's passion about the subject of the Easter Rising today and, as far as I can see, refusing to really see the big picture of what was going on. I'm in no way shape or form an apologist for all-Ireland Unionism, haha, I just think a bit of modest clarity on some aspects of our history would go a long way in keeping cool heads in the present-day divisions that rock the northeast of this island...

I remember a little bit of this when I lived in the Republic back in the 80s. It was quite enlightening to hear this from someone else. I remember my first RTE news show when I was in Shannon after flying in. It was about the sectarian murder of a catholic/protestant couple by car bomb. It was very confusing for a protestant kid from the South to be introduced to the 'Troubles' by videos of folks throwing acid/fire bombs at cops and seeing Orange day footage from Londonderry.

Luckily we lived in the Republic but even 9 months after the Mountbatten murder, my folks were leary of heading further north of where we were. 

Offline White Wolf

Re: Most annoying historical myths?
« Reply #154 on: October 23, 2013, 12:19:48 PM »
I remember a little bit of this when I lived in the Republic back in the 80s. It was quite enlightening to hear this from someone else. I remember my first RTE news show when I was in Shannon after flying in. It was about the sectarian murder of a catholic/protestant couple by car bomb. It was very confusing for a protestant kid from the South to be introduced to the 'Troubles' by videos of folks throwing acid/fire bombs at cops and seeing Orange day footage from Londonderry.

Luckily we lived in the Republic but even 9 months after the Mountbatten murder, my folks were leary of heading further north of where we were.

Growing up when I was a kid we could stay out playing all day and night, come home and leave the doors unlocked. We didn't think anything of it; we were kids, we didn't know better. Only after I moved away from where I grew up did I realise that that, in fact, is not the norm - the reason we could do it in the town I grew up in in the Republic was because it was garrisoned by the Provisionals. Not wanting police interference they simply removed the criminal element so that they could keep a low profile. It was shocking to find that out after the fact, haha. And though I was too young to remember the Troubles - beyond that one little episode - I've heard stories of IRA checkpoints on the road up to the North, British holidaymakers having to hide their accents, etc. Even now when I visit North of the Wall (I have a friend - Protestant, for point of interest - up there who I hang out with regularly) I'm still amazed at the evidence of the Troubles that lie around. Bringing a friend of mine who was visiting from England for a week up to Belfast I was nearly mortified when our train raced past a wall that had "ANY ANTI-SOCIAL BEHAVIOUR WILL NOT BE TOLERATED; UDA" sprayed in big white lettering. It's shocking; we may be at peace now but everything is still right there, under the surface.

Offline ladia2287

Re: Most annoying historical myths?
« Reply #155 on: October 23, 2013, 12:58:04 PM »
To me, the most annoying historical myth is that Queen Cleopatra VII was a scheming slut who seduced Julius Caesar and Mark Antony in order to later blackmail them into letting her steal and keep the Egyptian crown.

News flash! The crown was already legitimately hers. Her brother Ptolemy and sister Arsinoe stole it from her and then banished her. After she managed to smuggle herself back into Alexandria she told her side of the story to Julius Caesar and he agreed to reinstate her. There is no proof other than the claims of Caesar and Mark Antony themselves that Cleopatra seduced anyone or even that they fathered any of her children. Remember that the Ptolemaic dynasty was big on incest and Cleopatra was actually legally married.

Offline gaggedLouise

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Re: Most annoying historical myths?
« Reply #156 on: October 23, 2013, 01:54:53 PM »
You're absolutely right in your assessment of how the British felt about the Irish, and vice versa. Don't get me wrong - the Empire was utterly barbaric towards the Irish, and there are schools of thought here that with some justification refer to the Famine as the Irish Holocaust, as there is a lot of evidence to suggest it was, if not caused by, then manipulated by the British to subdue the Irish population.. My issue was simply with Irish people's passion about the subject of the Easter Rising today and, as far as I can see, refusing to really see the big picture of what was going on. I'm in no way shape or form an apologist for all-Ireland Unionism, haha, I just think a bit of modest clarity on some aspects of our history would go a long way in keeping cool heads in the present-day divisions that rock the northeast of this island...

*nods* I remember this guy who was living at the same student dorm as myself many years back, one day in the kitchen he retold the story of how, during the potato famine, lots of Irish families had flocked to the beaches and were desperately using seaweed to make bread and porridge, with primitive ovens and fireplaces made from natural stones they'd picked up - everything else was out of reach. But the skillful British soldiers reported this and there was soon a tax on seaweed in place in Ireland, to make sure that it could not be collected for free. At that point he creased up with laughter and bubbled out: how smart and how cool of those Brits (yes, he was very much an anglophile).

I am not a judgmental person, but still felt it was sort of disturbing, I wanted to tell him "You realize what it is you're laughing at, what you're making a show of admiring?" But of course I didn't want to disturb the feel-good factor...

Offline White Wolf

Re: Most annoying historical myths?
« Reply #157 on: October 23, 2013, 02:11:26 PM »
*nods* I remember this guy who was living at the same student dorm as myself many years back, one day in the kitchen he retold the story of how, during the potato famine, lots of Irish families had flocked to the beaches and were desperately using seaweed to make bread and porridge, with primitive ovens and fireplaces made from natural stones they'd picked up - everything else was out of reach. But the skillful British soldiers reported this and there was soon a tax on seaweed in place in Ireland, to make sure that it could not be collected for free. At that point he creased up with laughter and bubbled out: how smart and how cool of those Brits (yes, he was very much an anglophile).

I am not a judgmental person, but still felt it was sort of disturbing, I wanted to tell him "You realize what it is you're laughing at, what you're making a show of admiring?" But of course I didn't want to disturb the feel-good factor...

That person has...something of a problem. I'd actually probably describe myself as an Anglophile, insofar as I lived in England for several years, loved it, and would love to be back again. I love the Royal Family and all the pomp and ceremony associated with Britishness, haha.

But even Tories have issued apologies for the mistakes of the past, like slavery, massacres, etc. carried out under the Empire. That person you knew had some serious problems...that would be like admiring German efficiency for the way they got so many Jews through the ovens at Auschwitz :S

Offline Kythia

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Re: Most annoying historical myths?
« Reply #158 on: October 23, 2013, 04:06:16 PM »
1. We are led to believe that Ireland as a nation never existed before 1916.

I'm sorry, but that's fundamentally false. This lie is actually two birds with one stone - not only did an Irish nation exist, but it wasn't in a constant state of open rebellion against Britain either (more on that below). The first MAJOR Irish uprising, the Confederate Wars, was actually fought by a group who swore allegiance to the King of England on behalf of the Kingdom of Ireland - Irishmen, in other words, happy to live under English rule, despite everything we are led to believe. In the 1700s the most prominent force in Irish politics was the Irish Patriot Party - a party which believed that Ireland should have a strong self-identity and use that strength to better benefit the British Empire as a whole. Two examples of Irish nationalist thinking that did NOT involve open rebellion against British rule, and proved that there was a very strong idea of Irishness that existed, not in spite of, but ALONGSIDE the Irish identity as being British.

My problem here is that "Nation" isn't unambiguously defined.  There was Irish Nationalism of course, so in that sense there must have been a Nation, otherwise what were people being nationalistic about?  But in the other sense of a nation, as a state, no there was no Irish nation prior to 1916 (1921).  You've given a good argument against the first but, as I say, "nation" has two distinct meanings - or can have at least - and the second meaning isn't a historical myth.
« Last Edit: October 23, 2013, 04:57:13 PM by Kythia »

Offline White Wolf

Re: Most annoying historical myths?
« Reply #159 on: October 23, 2013, 05:33:11 PM »
My problem here is that "Nation" isn't unambiguously defined.  There was Irish Nationalism of course, so in that sense there must have been a Nation, otherwise what were people being nationalistic about?  But in the other sense of a nation, as a state, no there was no Irish nation prior to 1916 (1921).  You've given a good argument against the first but, as I say, "nation" has two distinct meanings - or can have at least - and the second meaning isn't a historical myth.

I may have danced over my thought process for the sake of impact, if so, I apologise. What I meant is we learn absolutely nothing about Irish history prior to 1916 (or at least prior to the Home Rule Movement of the late 19th Century; I don't remember the exact dates). The result is we are conditioned to see the Irish nation as ONLY being a people in rebellion against Britain; when in fact, as I pointed out, there was an Irish nation that for a while was quite comfortable in its dual-role as being both Irish and British.

Offline gaggedLouise

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Re: Most annoying historical myths?
« Reply #160 on: October 23, 2013, 05:42:03 PM »
I may have danced over my thought process for the sake of impact, if so, I apologise. What I meant is we learn absolutely nothing about Irish history prior to 1916 (or at least prior to the Home Rule Movement of the late 19th Century; I don't remember the exact dates). The result is we are conditioned to see the Irish nation as ONLY being a people in rebellion against Britain; when in fact, as I pointed out, there was an Irish nation that for a while was quite comfortable in its dual-role as being both Irish and British.

You mean history books at school in Ireland these days do not make any large affair of medieval Ireland, the country of monks, scholars, nature mysticism and the whole Celtic legacy thing???

Well, I can see the trouble if they want history at school to be scientific, since so much of those days is swept in a haze of legend - from St.Brendan to Finn McCool - but that was actually a surprise. Ask people anywhere about old Ireland and they will say "monks, druids, knights and the Book of Kells".

Offline White Wolf

Re: Most annoying historical myths?
« Reply #161 on: October 23, 2013, 06:20:46 PM »
You mean history books at school in Ireland these days do not make any large affair of medieval Ireland, the country of monks, scholars, nature mysticism and the whole Celtic legacy thing???

Well, I can see the trouble if they want history at school to be scientific, since so much of those days is swept in a haze of legend - from St.Brendan to Finn McCool - but that was actually a surprise. Ask people anywhere about old Ireland and they will say "monks, druids, knights and the Book of Kells".

You have no idea how badly I would LOVE to have studied that in school. No, all we learnt in history class was about Hitler (every. single. year.) the Home Rule Movement and the 1916 Rising. That is IT. It's a tragedy since, as you say, Irish culture is so steeped in our pre-Christian heritage :(

Offline Hemingway

Re: Most annoying historical myths?
« Reply #162 on: October 24, 2013, 03:41:27 PM »
My problem here is that "Nation" isn't unambiguously defined.  There was Irish Nationalism of course, so in that sense there must have been a Nation, otherwise what were people being nationalistic about?  But in the other sense of a nation, as a state, no there was no Irish nation prior to 1916 (1921).  You've given a good argument against the first but, as I say, "nation" has two distinct meanings - or can have at least - and the second meaning isn't a historical myth.

I think I'll just go ahead and say nations are a historical myth. Nationalism as we understand it today ( and people understand it in many different ways, but at least they're talking broadly about the same thing ) didn't exist in most of Europe until the 1800s. I can't help but respect some of the early nationalist movements, but those were very much about casting off imperial rule. Or at least to be treated as equals within the empire.

Those nationalisms are always explained by looking back at the nation's history, whatever they define the nation as ( by way of language, ethnicity, religion ). But those nations did not exist in any meaningful sense before the rise of the state as we know it today. A Hungarian farmer living in the southern part of what then constituted the kingdom probably had more in common with people in parts of what we now think of as the Balkans, than a Hungarian at the opposite side of the country. To say nothing of how those people in the Balkans ... actually, let's not even go there.

So, let me clarify. Nations do exist. But the idea embraced by some that nations have always existed in some sort of rigid form, is a myth.

Offline Kythia

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Re: Most annoying historical myths?
« Reply #163 on: October 24, 2013, 04:09:18 PM »
I think I'll just go ahead and say nations are a historical myth. Nationalism as we understand it today ( and people understand it in many different ways, but at least they're talking broadly about the same thing ) didn't exist in most of Europe until the 1800s. I can't help but respect some of the early nationalist movements, but those were very much about casting off imperial rule. Or at least to be treated as equals within the empire.

Those nationalisms are always explained by looking back at the nation's history, whatever they define the nation as ( by way of language, ethnicity, religion ). But those nations did not exist in any meaningful sense before the rise of the state as we know it today. A Hungarian farmer living in the southern part of what then constituted the kingdom probably had more in common with people in parts of what we now think of as the Balkans, than a Hungarian at the opposite side of the country. To say nothing of how those people in the Balkans ... actually, let's not even go there.

So, let me clarify. Nations do exist. But the idea embraced by some that nations have always existed in some sort of rigid form, is a myth.

"Most of Europe" is the key there though.  England, and later Britain, has had a strong feel of a nation since the high medieval period.  It's what comes from being an island.

Offline gaggedLouise

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Re: Most annoying historical myths?
« Reply #164 on: October 24, 2013, 04:20:22 PM »
"Most of Europe" is the key there though.  England, and later Britain, has had a strong feel of a nation since the high medieval period.  It's what comes from being an island.

True, but I'd hazard that even though a unifying sense of nationhood goes far back in some countries (France and the Netherlands, too, for instance) the idea that "this country belongs to us, and all of us, by right of blood and a common language; we, together, are the descendants of those who lived here as far as anyone can glimpse in history (or prehistory)" is a more recent one. It emerged around the time of the French Revolution. Back in the Tudor age or the 14th century, loyalty to your state was directed towards the King and the nobility, not focusing on the people as such, the "blood nation".
« Last Edit: October 24, 2013, 04:24:29 PM by gaggedLouise »

Offline Kythia

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Re: Most annoying historical myths?
« Reply #165 on: October 24, 2013, 04:30:54 PM »
True, but I'd hazard that even though a unifying sense of nationhood goes far back in some countries (France and the Netherlands, too, for instance) the idea that "this country belongs to us, and all of us, by right of blood and a common language; we, together, are the descendants of those who lived here as far as anyone can glimpse in history (or prehistory)" is a more recent one. It emerged around the time of the French Revolution. Back in the Tudor age or the 14th century, loyalty to your state was directed towards the King and the nobility, not focusing on the people as such, the "blood nation".

I don't know that I agree.  Look at the preamble to the 1215 Magna Carta:

Quote
KNOW THAT BEFORE GOD, for the health of our soul and those of our ancestors and heirs, to the honour of God, the exaltation of the holy Church, and the better ordering of our kingdom, (etc)

Leaving aside the very nature of the document, there's a clear sense that its for England, not for anything else.  Clearly that line of thinking was around then, 550 years before the French Revolution.

While I don't argue that Nationalism as a movement is a late 18th and 19th century phenomenon - and don't argue that England has always been an outlier in European philosophical trends (its what comes from being an island  ;D), I think you're drawing too loose a net there.

Offline Hemingway

Re: Most annoying historical myths?
« Reply #166 on: October 24, 2013, 05:10:45 PM »
"Most of Europe" is the key there though.  England, and later Britain, has had a strong feel of a nation since the high medieval period.  It's what comes from being an island.

And yet, I don't think people would be happy with the implication that all of Britain constitutes one nation, so you encounter exactly the same situation. I don't know enough about the history of Britain to comment on the specifics, but I suppose it's not unthinkable that there's a sense in which the people saw themselves as somehow different from people from continental Europe, most specifically I suppose the French. And, of course, every 'nation' is going to argue that its case is special. You essentially can't have nationalism without that.

My point, though, was never that people didn't think of themselves as belonging to some sort of community ( the term 'imagined community' is often used to describe nationalisms ), but that this is something quite different from what we think of as nationalism today. If there wasn't a surge of nationalism in Britain in the 1800s, I'd like to suggest that it wasn't because it had already established some sort of national identity ( or perhaps it had, but in a slightly different form ), but rather because the British Empire was an empire. Similar to the Habsburg Empire in that sense, except that instead of having to deal with Hungarian nationalism, there's Irish. It's a thought, anyway.

My underlying point, however, is that whatever notions of nationhood exists, there's no such thing as a nation. Or, there is, but there isn't. It's an imagined community, invented and then imposed on history - not the other way around.

Offline Kythia

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Re: Most annoying historical myths?
« Reply #167 on: October 24, 2013, 05:32:32 PM »
Yeah...and no.  And yeah. And a bit of no.  The British Empire as we (I at least) tend to mean it is largely a nineteenth century/post Napoleonic creation so I'm not convinced by the "already was an Empire" argument in the form you presented it.  Its possible that nationalism in Britain took the form of Empire building, certainly.

However the, at the time, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland has something mainland Europe lacked - clearly defined national boundaries.  Britain isn't defined by constructed lines on a map, but by real, impossible to ignore, geographical features.  And that has necessarily shaped an outlook different to the mainland.  We're intrinsically different to the French (in that sense, you get what I mean).  And that's always been the case.  Look at the level of Xenophobia in Shakespeare (as an aside, I saw Midsummer Night's Dream at the Globe recently and the "rude mechanicals" spat every time France was mentioned.  Made me chuckle).

There is a very real difference that comes from being an island nation.

Offline Hemingway

Re: Most annoying historical myths?
« Reply #168 on: October 24, 2013, 06:30:53 PM »
The British Empire as we (I at least) tend to mean it is largely a nineteenth century/post Napoleonic creation so I'm not convinced by the "already was an Empire" argument in the form you presented it.  Its possible that nationalism in Britain took the form of Empire building, certainly.

I'm not sure how this differs from what I said. Are you disputing that the British Empire existed in the mid 1800s?

We're intrinsically different to the French (in that sense, you get what I mean).  And that's always been the case.

I don't, actually. And whatever 'always' means in this case, it almost certainly isn't true, considering how many different peoples have settled the British Isles.

If, when referring to "real, impossible to ignore, geographical features", you're talking about the oceans, then even that is clearly only partly true. I'm again talking about the conquests by various tribes over the centuries. It also doesn't address the problems with different national groups within Britain. If you're talking about some other geographical feature, then take your pick in continental Europe, they exist there as well, and you're in the same exact position.

As I've said from the beginning, I'd have to know more about British history to be able to actually say anything for certain. Or anything resembling certain. I know that in continental Europe it's very difficult to talk about anything like modern ideas of nationhood before the 1800s, essentially because there is no 'people'. There's almost certainly no shared identity with the ruling classes, the feudal peasantry, and the lands they inhabited. The rulers were very often foreign-born, and borders vaguely defined at best. Your fealty, as a peasant, was to your lord, and his to whoever happened to be his rulers. Nothing is shared in between them, and the peasantry are more part of the land than anything else - whoever happens to control the land also controls, that is to say taxes the peasants.

The point of this is that feudalism existed in Britain as well, and it's difficult to imagine that its relative isolation would make it so special as to negate all of this. Because it's not just about having outside borders, when internally the country is still divided. The magna carta doesn't improved that situation, either, as I think later conflicts amply illustrate.

Anyway, I've gone on long enough. I hope I've made this a bit clearer.

Offline Kythia

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Re: Most annoying historical myths?
« Reply #169 on: October 25, 2013, 11:57:03 AM »
OK.  In answer to your first point, your comment was:

If there wasn't a surge of nationalism in Britain in the 1800s, I'd like to suggest that it wasn't because it had already established some sort of national identity ( or perhaps it had, but in a slightly different form ), but rather because the British Empire was an empire.

I'm saying that the British Empire wasn't already an Empire.  It was becoming an Empire.  My point is that while its possible that the form Nationalism took in Britain is in empire building, the argument that it already was an empire doesn't ring true to me when you look at the time of growth of the empire.

Sorry for being unclear.

As to your second, I'm afraid I don't fully understand your point.  You talk about "borders being uncertain" but as I've mentioned they weren't - I was referring to the oceans by the way.  You seem to be saying that because peasants owed allegiance to their lord, they couldn't have allegiance to their country? Am I understanding you correctly?  Feudalism was abolished, legally, in 1660 in Britain and de facto long before that - why are you focusing on the 1800s? 

I'm sorry, Im not being deliberately obtuse, I promise.  I just don't see what your argument is precisely.

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Re: Most annoying historical myths?
« Reply #170 on: October 25, 2013, 12:08:10 PM »
I think the argument is one of scale.  If your life focuses on your tiny corner of the country (village, town, city) and the rest of the country can just sod off as far as you care, then there's hardly a spirit of nationalism.  If your reaction to 'we have a new national leader' is 'That's nice, pass the scones please,' then can you really say that you feel like you're 'part of a nation'?

Offline Hemingway

Re: Most annoying historical myths?
« Reply #171 on: October 25, 2013, 06:35:32 PM »
Oniya isn't far off. But allow me to elaborate.

As to your second, I'm afraid I don't fully understand your point.  You talk about "borders being uncertain" but as I've mentioned they weren't - I was referring to the oceans by the way.  You seem to be saying that because peasants owed allegiance to their lord, they couldn't have allegiance to their country? Am I understanding you correctly?  Feudalism was abolished, legally, in 1660 in Britain and de facto long before that - why are you focusing on the 1800s? 

I'm sorry, Im not being deliberately obtuse, I promise.  I just don't see what your argument is precisely.

I mention borders as being vaguely defined because it's important for understanding how easily fealty could shift. I'd actually like to go a bit further. Because when you focus so much on the external borders of the British Isles, you miss the fact that internally it is still not a state. 'Country' is a very fuzzy word, and I prefer not to use it. It's entirely possible, of course, that people would have some sort of allegiance to their 'country' - it's where they live, after all. Or they might have their allegiance to their lord, and even by extension to the king. But that is not nationalism. Nationalism is dangerous to those in power, because it implies some sort of equality. Equality, and separation.

And I've yet to see you actually address the issue of the multi-ethnic, multi-lingual nature of Britain. Because that is not irrelevant. I mean, not if the argument is that Britain is special because it's an island. Because this implies that Britain is united by common identification with the same, clearly bounded place. But that's very obviously not the case. Britain also has a long history of internal conflicts between different ethnic and religious groups. With France, too. Just like the rest of Europe. Which is the long way of saying that Britain is really not that special. It was nowhere near as isolated as Japan was for a long time, and Japan is an even clearer example of isolation not leading to any type of unification.

Now, maybe you feel comparing it to Japan makes no sense, but what I'm trying to get across is this: If being an island was somehow special, you'd expect similarities. And there are similarities. Just not in the way that you've been suggesting.

Offline ladia2287

Re: Most annoying historical myths?
« Reply #172 on: October 25, 2013, 07:15:04 PM »
I'm not sure how this debate started, but here is my two cents.

It is my opinion that 'Nationalism' in Britain cannot truly exist in the context that we think of it today, and here is my logic for thinking this.

First of all, Britain is not, and as far as I can research, never has been a nation. England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales are all separate countries in their own right and even Cornwall, which is nowadays recognised as being part of England, was for several centuries it's own country.

Secondly, there is the matter of language. Welsh and Irish are quite easily recognisable as completely different and separate to English. Even Scottish retains some of its original language despite being considered a variant of English, and numerous Counties in England have their own language which is completely different to what we call English. This is particularly noticeable up north, in the Counties that are closest to the Scottish border.

Thirdly, and having actually been to The UK myself I can attest to this, there is a great deal of rivalry between residents of the different countries that make up the British Isles. It is a well known stereotype that the English and Irish don't get along. There is a long and bitter history of oppression and resentment there. If you ask for directions in Wales and happen to be wearing any recognisably English symbols on your clothing (such as the English flag) you will run into difficulty. Yes, Nationalism exists, but not to Britain as a whole.

Finally, there is the indisputable fact that many citizens of the UK will correct you if you call them 'British'. They will tell you that they are English, Scottish, Irish, Welsh or Cornish. Myself included.

Offline Hemingway

Re: Most annoying historical myths?
« Reply #173 on: October 25, 2013, 07:22:16 PM »
Oh, I would like to make it very clear that I don't think it's impossible for an Englishman to be a nationalist. No, no, no. My original point was simply to say that nations do not exist - they're a historical myth, that nationalism - and the nation as we think of it, is a modern invention. We then got sidetracked into talking about British nationalism.

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Re: Most annoying historical myths?
« Reply #174 on: October 25, 2013, 07:50:31 PM »
Now, maybe you feel comparing it to Japan makes no sense, but what I'm trying to get across is this: If being an island was somehow special, you'd expect similarities. And there are similarities. Just not in the way that you've been suggesting.

I think that you're missing bits of history, as Japan was unified in 1615 under the Tokugawa Shogunate. I even went and double checked my facts. And this would be considered the end of the Feudal era of Japan or Warring states period. It was a Military government, run by Shogun, and lasted until the Boshin War and the Meiji restoration.

This idea that Japan didn't become unified until European interference kinda would be considered an irritating historical myth for me.

I'd also like to add China to the list of countries that were so isolated that they were a "country" Even if they were more of an Empire. So I suppose in linguistics terms Nations are a new thing but the definition of nation is according to define Nation in my google bar "a large aggregate of people united by common descent, history, culture, or language, inhabiting a particular country or territory." So an empire is still a nation, even if they don't use that term.

Nationalism isn't really so much a modern invention as a new word to mean "I'm loyal to my land and the people I care for that live on it and will fight for it if necessary." But then again, I might have a different idea of what "nation" and "nationalism" is than you.