The Long Game

Repentance – of the non-trivial – strikes me as a human rarity. Read a piece in the Guardian about Josef Mengele the other day, living out his days eating with a dwindling band of ex-pat sympathisers, grousing about the poor reputation his monstrosities had won him, still adamant he was right. Name a villain of today and they’ll be the same, especially if their crimes are – and they likely are – a good deal more subtle than his. Nobody believes they’re evil.

Read something else, on a blog. Some neo-con – Wolfowitz? Rumsfeld? – talking about history. They were making history, you see, the liberals would be the people (imagine the lip curling) discussing it afterwards. Set yourself up as one of history’s actors and the consequences of those actions recede. “At least he has a plan”. The election seems longer than 28 days ago: time the great healer? No, just a competent anaesthetist.

Discussing it afterwards: this is the historian’s job. “History will judge me” – well that’s exactly what I want history to do, and what it does too little. I can’t believe in a god or an afterlife but I can put some faith in hindsight. Let’s never be afraid to speak ill of the dead.