Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Judging the past by modern standards

Loving history as I do I'm always pretty careful not to allow my modern day sentiments to interfere with my opinions of what was said and done in the past. People were different, they thought differently, they even acted differently to situations where the modern response would be something else entirely. Yet as ever there are those who want to make mountains out of molehills...
A letter written by the future Edward VIII that exposes him as racist and sexist has come to light.
The Prince of Wales, who later abdicated to marry an American divorcee, wrote to his then mistress, Freda Dudley Ward, while he was on a Caribbean cruise.
He visited Barbados in 1920, aged 25, but wrote that he found the “coloured population” to be “revolting”.
He also wrote of dancing with women, all of whem his insisted were young and vetted by his friend, Louis Mountbatten, and described one lady as an “American bit”.
The Prince, whose name before he was King was David, included the diatribe in a love letter to his then mistress, Freda Dudley Ward, in which he complained about how much he was missing her.
Granted history has already judged him a weak character, but the letter actually proves that he was typical of his class at the time. I doubt he was overtly racist nor that he wanted a return to slavery. What he was exhibiting was the paternalistic attitude of the rulers of the Empire to those they ruled. They saw primitives in most cases and judged them accordingly. As for his attitude towards women, again typical of a lot of men, it was very much a male dominated society and women in a lot of cases were mere decoration.
Someone once described the past as a foreign country and that's how we should treat it, different mores, customs and attitudes to life and society. Things sometimes awful things happened for a reason, massacres, chauvinism even outward racism (by our standards) were often commonplace because people thought differently and viewed the world differently.
So Edward VIII was probably an unpleasant man, but, he was not so different from a lot of men at that time and we should judge accordingly, not try to make headlines out of it.

3 annotations:

Ian Hills said...

Things have come to a pretty pass when we are obliged to find everyone attractive, and not one kind of person revolting.

Can I be prosecuted for finding overweight people revolting? It used to be a matter of personal taste....

English Pensioner said...

I remember a few years ago when the Irish potato famine was being discussed, some politician blaming the government of the day saying that they could easily have sent a few plane loads of emergency relief!
Just the automatic response to a situation, looking at yesterday's issues in the light of today's thinking.

Michael said...

"The Past is a Different Country, they do things differently there" was the first rule of analysing History I learnt at University. It is a good rule although leftist "right on, thinkers" think otherwise. It is supreme arrogance to apply the mores of today to the past.