Wars Can Start When Leaders Act As Historians
Beware The Historian-Politician
Citing Ukraine as the most recent example, Gideon Rachman of The Financial Times, warns of the dangers when politicians cast themselves as historians and cast history in a different light.
“When political leaders start rewriting the past, you should fear for the future. In Russia, Hungary, Japan and China, recent politically sponsored efforts to change history textbooks were warning signs of rising nationalism,” Rachman writes.
But Ukraine is hardly the one place where historical revisions are occurring – and elsewhere the consequences might be far more impactful.
“Nationalist efforts to rewrite history textbooks are also cause for concern in Asia. Shinzo Abe, Japan’s prime minister, has suggested some school textbooks adopt too “masochistic” a view of the country’s history. This suggestion has outraged the governments of China and South Korea, which even before Mr Abe’s advent had long complained that Japanese textbooks play down crimes such as the Nanjing massacre of 1937 or the use of sexual slaves by the Japanese imperial army.
“Yet Beijing is itself hardly innocent of the abuse of history for nationalist purposes. President Xi Jinping unveiled his plans for the “great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation” in a speech given at the recently redesigned National History Museum in Beijing.”
Do Moral Obligations Extend Beyond The Borders?
Joseph Nye addresses the question of what moral obligation leaders have beyond their borders. Although the question is most relevant to the current civil war in Syria, whether a leader should take action to prevent violence or genocide has been asked in other conflicts, including South Sudan, the Central African Republic and Somalia, and other places.
Nye notes that the UN General Assembly unanimously recognized a “responsibility to protect” citizens when their own government fails to do so in 2005.
“In recent centuries, the nation has been the imagined community for which most people were willing to make sacrifices, and even to die, and most leaders have seen their primary obligations to be national in scope,” Nye states.
He continues: “In a world of globalization, however, many people belong to multiple imagined communities. Some – local, regional, national, cosmopolitan – seem to be arranged as concentric circles, with the strength of identity diminishing with distance from the core; but, in a global information age, this ordering has become confused.”