Here we are in January, when we should be thanking Michael Gove for taking away the disruption of January A Level modules; instead many of us looking on piteously, slack-jawed in amazement that an intelligent man has written stuff of such baffling simple-mindedness (Why does the Left insist on belittling true British heroes? The Daily Mail, 3 January). In writing about the way in which we can “succumb to some of the myths that have grown up about the conflict” he says that at worse this tendency in history shows “an unhappy compulsion to denigrate virtues such as patriotism, honour and courage.” He cites a historical argument that the Battle of the Somme was a precursor to the Allied victory in 1918 and therefore should not be treated as “the epitome of military futility”. The article closes, in less partisan mode, by referring to “Britain’s special tradition of liberty” that our forebears believed in and fought for. So, the gloves are off – M Gove vs T Hunt. And, famously by now, Baldrick has been cited.
Could you have a meatier and better up-and-at-em historical controversy to help us slough off any New Year excesses? (Some agreement here, perhaps.) Well, yes, but, Michael Gove, clearly no fool and someone very interested in History, as shown by his very respectable contributions in discussion with Simon Schama, Margaret Macmillan and others on Andrew Marr’s Start the Week on 30 December, has shot himself in the foot with this article. There are two rookie errors that will do for now.
The first is to deploy words such as honour, courage and nobility as if they should be virtues and feelings that students, researchers and teachers have a responsibility to evoke from history, as if the purpose of history is patriotism; the implication being that somehow we are failing if we do not end up with the requisite roseate glow of these qualities as a result of our studying of the First World War.
The second, arguably even worse because it is so easily rebutted, is to attack the use of satire in broadening our understanding of history; by implication he is setting the British satirical tradition against love of country. The British national identity is one that is characterised by a healthy irreverence for what we are told in the official version. Baldrick, very much in the Shakespearean tradition of the wise fool, is a national treasure and the questioning, irreverent vein in British life is a daily reminder of why we have so much to be thankful for.
By Keith Budge, Headmaster, Bedales Schools
Bedales School is one of the UK’s top independent private co-education boarding schools. Bedales comprises three schools situated in Steep, near Petersfield, Hampshire: Dunannie (ages 3–8), Dunhurst (ages 8–13) and Bedales itself (ages 13–18). Established in 1893 Bedales School puts emphasis on the Arts, Sciences, voluntary service, pastoral care, and listening to students’ views. Bedales is acclaimed for its drama, theatre, art and music. The Headmaster is Keith Budge.