Thursday, 3 January 2013

It wasn't the end of the world: 2012 by Eve Edwards

It was quite a year, wasn't it?  I know that now we've tippled over into 2013 we are supposed to be looking ahead but I wanted to take a moment to consider how the history books will regard last year as it touches on how events get written down.
My favourite date!

We all know the Zhou Enlai quote in answer to the question 'What was the significance of the French Revolution?'  'It's too soon to say.'  So what hope do we have of making sense of 2012 right up against the exit point?  Not much - but that's not going to stop me!
Zhou Enlai

The first thing to say is that we know it is going to be misunderstood and misremembered.  Take Premier Zhou.  He may not have said the words above at all.  It is possible he was answering a question on the 1968 riots in Paris and it all got lost in translation.  He got stuck with the quote because it fitted what we in the West thought we heard, slotting neatly in with ideas about the long course of Chinese history and how someone from that country might see our European events.

OK - so we are going to get it wrong.  See in 2012 what we want to see, not what is underneath.

A year for red white and blue celebrations!
For the UK, I think it is fairly safe to say we will want it to be recognised as a year of two conflicting streams - bad news on the economy contrasted with fabulous news on the Olympics and Jubilee.  This is the surface glitter.  We all rather enjoyed ourselves against the odds.  I worried in advance about the Olympics in London because I feared another terrorist attack.  Thank goodness that didn't happen.  I really enjoyed it though from the moment the Opening Ceremony got under way - I think I'm not alone in this so my reaction (your reaction?) is part of a greater one that will figure in our island history.  I'm guessing it will be mentioned in the future like the Festival of Britain or the Great Exhibition - a moment of pride against a complex background.  It helped us forget that economically we are bumping along the bottom.

However, I would put my money on us missing the really significant events of last year.  Dohar anyone?  Did you pay attention to what was called the 'useful housekeeping' on the UN climate change at the end of the year.  By this they meant, they got an agreed statement out at the end.  They are housekeeping, changing the sheets, but unfortunately the bed is in a cabin on the Titanic.  Historians are going to be looking back and wondering why we didn't notice the socking great iceberg we are chugging towards full steam ahead.  America looked out the porthole briefly thanks to the terrible storm in the autumn, but they can't seem to drag themselves away from the boring party of Democrats versus Republicans long enough to do anything.  To change my metaphor, we are in a dangerous round of 'who will bell the cat?' - no one stepping forward to do the job.

There are other things to ponder - will America do anything about gun control after yet another sickening school shooting?  Probably nothing effective is my guess, for the same reason as above.  Arab spring has become the Arab swing back to despotism in some places.  Another, slightly faltering step in the rise of China.  Debt deepens and Europe dithers.

All in all, an interesting year that wasn't the end of the world.

And finally I'm reaching my point as a historical writer.  We write with hindsight but our characters are always voyaging into the unknown.  In 1917 (the date my characters in my new book have reached) they did not know the war was going to end the following year or that they would be on the winning side.  They would have been making guesses and tried to draw conclusions at new year 1918 just as I have done.  Add into the mix the serious possibility that you wouldn't see 1919 if you were in combat, caught flu or lived in the South East under German bombing routes.  It challenges a writer to plot with this innocence if you are writing from their point of view.  I find it really helpful to turn, not to history books, but to diaries to recapture this ignorance.

So perhaps a future writer will look at blogs.  Even this one?  Hello to the future.  I hope we didn't mess it up too badly for you but I fear that we did.

Perhaps contemporary readers of this would like to pitch what they think were the significant events historically speaking of the year?


adele said...

This is most interesting, Eve. I loved the Olympics, the Jubilee and all the glitter etc. Lots of awful things in there too, as you say but yes, perfectly okay to do a post mortem only three days after the end of the year! And your point about historical ignorance of characters in books is well made.

Marie-Louise Jensen said...

I think you are right about climate change. Future generations (if there are many!) will look back and think, 'All the warning signs were there. Why did they do nothing?'

Katherine Roberts said...

Not the end of the world maybe... but, mysteriously, my computer's clock stopped that day! Now I need to input the date and time by hand.

And apparently there was a big sunspot?

Happy 2013 to all the survivors!