Monday, 11 May 2009

“OUR NATION” and whose “HISTORY”?

The Bailiff introduced a recent talk on Jersey’s occupation history saying such things as “history is a faithful record of historical details etc”. He took the opportunity to bemoan “the tide of misinformation about the occupation” that had been regurgitated as a result of Haut de la Garenne publicity and how the Island had been “an object of lies and distortions.”

Of course, as a lawyer – with or without the autocratic powers of a Bailiff - he likes the certainty of words and meanings and the idea that there is “an official history of the occupation” (written some years ago by Cruickshank) would no doubt suit his viewpoint.
It is also a disturbing thread in concepts of “nationality”.
The ever present problem that different people with different agenda might come to totally different conclusions after studying the same historical “facts” is at the root of free speech and expression – but it does not suit those who believe in an “official line”.

Indeed, the worrying notion that “Jersey is a brand” was the concluding theme for the evening’s talk and the main speaker, historian and marketing man Prof Paul Saunders seemed to think that there was much work to be done in “managing the brand” and “monopolizing public opinion” and he referred to the obscure application of “threshold dynamics” at the point when old certainties are about to be replaced by new ones in the public mind……….and the Bailiff likes to refer to Jersey as a “Nation”.

The “Prof” also explained how the media can damage a brand image and that even campaigning NGOs could make the largest commercial organizations vulnerable when they mounted a campaign on an ethical or environmental basis. Thus he explained how in a Europe where post war agenda changed – and writers had access to fresh archives notably from the East – yesterday’s heroic Resistance fighters could soon be re-branded as Collaborators and the Jewish ownership of the Holocaust might have to be shared with millions of Slavs who were also to be exterminated in the Nazi plan……..

It was especially significant that Freddie Cohen was seated next to the Bailiff because the “Prof” emphasized how it might be necessary to promote the annual Holocaust Day at the lighthouse memorial in future as a counter-balance to possible changing views on the monumental presence of German bunkers et al in Jersey. It might also be desirable to emphasize how Islanders had helped escaped “slave workers” and how the distant historical “memory” would be modified as modern Eastern Europeans settled in Jersey and brought their own perspectives of reality whilst the local “memory” might be neglected.

So there it is. If we thought for a minute that the interpretation of history was casually left to the vagaries of fashion – we could not be more wrong. Everything is marketed to suit market-place demands – just like Jersey Fresh Milk and the sacred Jersey Cow – it’s all part of a “Jersey Brand”. Historians are not expected to be impartial tellers of stories that need to be told – they are just another cog in the official misinformation machine.
The Finance Industry is beneficial;” Tax Havens” are Finance Centres; “Tax Avoidance” is good “Tax Evasion” is bad; German bunkers were not built with the help of Jersey collaborators because they were too busy helping and hiding escaped “slaves”…….

And it’s all part of the process of making and breaking “myths” too – like the ones that now must show that civilian populations played their glorious part in history too as well as being the dead bodies near the battlefield.

Of course “working class heroes” have never really featured in the official view of Jersey history unless they are supportive of the official historical line. It would be difficult to imagine any Conscientious Objectors’ names being placed alongside those heroes awarded the VC in the Victoria College stained glass. But soon (for example), those unfortunate civilian individuals who perished abroad during the 2nd World War are likely to have their memories lionized as part of the latest Jersey “re branding” process.

(It’s probably too early yet though to see pre 2nd World War Trades Union activists or militant political reformers being cast in bronze….!)

The Bailiff apparently wants Jersey to be an independent “Nation” in the future and that is a cause he can pursue during his retirement from office if he chooses but it’s a pity that he and others seem to want official ownership of Jersey’s past history too.

Submitted by Thomas Wellard.


TonyTheProf said...

“the tide of misinformation about the occupation”

That doesn't include Clifford Orange (aliens Officer and Jersey Civil Servant) cheefully and dutifully compiling lists of resident aliens including Jews for the Germans, or the honorary police and Attorney-General being complicit in sending information about a man with a wireless set they discovered on to the Germans "for the greater good"; both you will find detailed in Paul Sander's book on the Occupation. The authorities do not come out that well in Saunder's book; locals like Bob Le Sueur and Norman Le Brocq - and those who perished for keeping the flame of freedom alight - come out much, much better.

Dan Marsh said...

Surely, people stopped listening to these "because I say so" speeches given by men in silly hats a long time ago?

We have far more reliable sources for knowledge in 2009, and are smart enough to work things out for ourselves.

These archaic public officials are well beyond redundancy. About time our local laws, and government were updated to reflect reality!

mike freeman said...

This is from Thomas Pynchon's Mason and Dixon -Summarises the whole thing rather neatly I think
Facts are but the Play-things of lawyers,—Tops and Hoops, forever a-spin.... Alas, the Historian may indulge no such idle Rotating. History is not Chronology, for that is left to lawyers,— nor is Remembrance, for Remembrance belongs to the People. History can as little pretend to the Veracity of the one, as claim the Power of the other,—her Practitioners, to survive, must soon learn the arts of the quidnunc, spy and Taproom Wit,— that there may ever continue more than one life-line back into a Past we risk, each day, losing our forbears in forever,— not a Chain of single Links, for one broken Link could lose us All,— rather, a great disorderly Tangle of Lines, long and short, weak and strong, vanishing into the Mnemonick Deep, with only their Destination in common." (p.349)