The last couple of months have been incredibly illuminating and dare I say it exciting, if horrifying. The world order is, undeniably, set to change. How that change manifests itself, what direction we as a species will take, what direction our nations states will turn in this period of flux is anybody's guess. A few people and students - not that my students aren't people too - have asked what me what will historians think of all this in fifty or a hundred years.
My honest answer is that I haven't got a foggiest. The advantage future historians have is that they know what happens next, they can look for the trends, the turning points, and chart whatever our future holds, noting cause and effect, and apportioning blame or eulogising the heroes and heroines of the coming days. For those of us living in the time of change, what happens next is rather more opaque.
There are some things I can predict about those future students of the past, however, based on what has gone before, based on our nature as a species, based on where we are now, and where we we have been before.
I used to think that the internet had killed off the letters and diaries that were manna to historical researchers, now I'm not so sure, it may just be a gift, a legacy to the future.
After Hitler, the people who supported him, screamed abuse, and assaulted Jews, Gays, Gypsies, Slavs, Socialists; the people who cheered as the innocents were dragged off to concentration camps, the ones who informed on their colleagues and neighbours, the ones who voted for the horror in their millions and cheered every victory, all melted away in defeat.
You couldn't find a Nazi supporter in Germany for love nor money in 1946 outside of the Nuremberg trials, the general population pretended they had never been involved, never voted, never spat, never taunted, or humiliated, never informed, or bullied.
There was no significant proof of their complicity in the greatest crime in human history, no explicit evidence of the tacit approval they had given to the murder. The paper trail of informers was largely destroyed in the fag end of the regime, and the abusive behaviour whilst documented and filmed largely ignored the perpetrators in the general population, and you simply couldn't film every incident, every abuse, it was far too widespread, like a madness infecting the whole population - with notable exceptions.
A collective amnesia and omerta descended upon a generation of people involved, however tangentially, in the persecution when faced with the reality and gravity of the holocaust. They were able to do that because, mostly, they left no record of their thoughts and actions.
In the past most people didn't keep diaries or even letters. Added to that was the realisation of what had actually happened, and the deliberate destruction of personal papers. Who, in all honesty, wouldn't want, in 1946, to hide what they had said or done ten years earlier? or even ten months earlier?
I mean, it wasn't as if most people's children or grandchildren could go and have a look at what their elders said and did at the time; some would find letters and diaries, but not in significant numbers in a population of millions. So, most of the people who supported, approved of, and indulged in the horror, rewrote their past and got on with their lives, knowing they were unlikely to ever be confronted with what they had done. Some were - the video below is most illuminating.... and it's only 4 minutes too.
Of course, facebook and twitter didn't exist in the 1940s, People didn't record every single detail of their lives in glorious technicolor on social media for the historians of the future to pore over.
Makes you think doesn't it... How is your legacy to future historians looking?