At one point in Richard III: The King in the Car Park, the presenter, Philippa Langley and two Leicester Scientists stand around the remains discussing wounds. And the conversation eventually settles upon one word: brutal. It is passed around as not only a comment on the way the body was treated (before and after death) but as an indictment upon the time. It is a judgment that fits in well with the general tone of history today and is popularised by the children's series Horrible Histories, which is nothing but playground whispers ...
Did you know what they ate? Can you imagine?
Do you know what they believed? What morons!
Did you hear what they did to one another? So inhuman!
From this we learn that we modern folk are, in every sense, superior. (Some might say that it is the mark of a shallow society, that must judge its worth through such sensationalised comparison.)
The chief problem is that we insist on judging people in history by our current standards, as though man has evolved to the present stage through an uncivilised passage of war and brutality, which has now ended. If that really was the case then why should we laugh at animals for behaving like animals? Why do we judge these people as men?
In fact we know that the wars have not ended. We know that brutality still exists. We know that people lie, cheat, steal, and even eat horse! We could quickly play tit for tat and say that we are no better today. But one thing that has not occurred to the historians, between swinging their clubs at Richard III, is that perhaps we are worse.
It is easy for people to demonise Hitler, Stalin and Mussolini, to assert that they were bad apples. Leaving them aside as extreme examples, we can easily find 3 examples of 20th century brutality, which are not so commonly known:
1. The American government tested the effects of radioactive material on the body by covert means. Some pregnant women were given radioactive iron in hospital rather than their vitamins. Researchers from MIT groomed lonely children and offered to take them on trips, if they drank radioactive milkshakes and submitted to medical tests. This did not happen once or twice. The cases are numerous, of people too poor to afford hospital treatment, who trusted doctors and were then subjected to something worse than their illness! Those who did not die, were not always the fortunate ones. This was known about, covered up and not only accepted butinstigated by the establishment. (Read more in The Plutonium Files by Eileen Welsome). Is this not brutal?
2. The Kinsey Report has been popularised as the birth of liberal sexuality in the West, as the unchaining of morality from the constraints of the past. What this myth hides is the means that Kinsey employed to come up with his "scientific results". When ex SS soldiers are on the staff, when Paedophiles are invited to rape children, when babies are sexually assaulted to "prove" that they like it ... brutal seems too gentle a word and Hell seems to cold for a place for the likes of Kinsey. (Read more in Sexual Sabotage by Judith Reismann.)
3. Some will say that for such wickedness there have been great men too. There have been good men to stop the corruption because deep down men are good. So we would not expect to find, long before the Nazi party executed their eugenic policy, that Winston Churchill was in favour of eugenics and wrote about improving the British breed:
In his letter, Churchill told Asquith: "The unnatural and increasingly rapid growth of the Feeble-Minded and Insane classes, coupled as it is with a steady restriction among all the thrifty, energetic and superior stocks, constitutes a national and race danger which it is impossible to exaggerate. I am convinced that the multiplication of the Feeble-Minded, which is proceeding now at an artificial rate, unchecked by any of the old restraints of nature, and actually fostered by civilised conditions, is a terrible danger to the race." Concerned by the high cost of forced segregation, Churchill preferred compulsory sterilisation to confinement, describing sterilisation as a "simple surgical operation so the inferior could be permitted freely in the world without causing much inconvenience to others."
We have invented gods and idols to combat the demons of the 20th century. But we don't want to know that those idols had feet of clay and something in common with the demons. And we don't want to think of doctors playing Russian Roulette with the poorest members of society by knowingly serving radioactive material instead of medication. And we certainly don't want to know that the price for normalising promiscuity was paid by the babies, raped in the name of science.
Historians have told so many myths about the past to bolster our supposed superiority, that truth is now a foreign country and the past is another planet. Some go there just to throw rocks at people like Richard III. Others go into history to avoid the "beauty" and "success" of this supposedly post-Christian reality. Those who know the depth of depravity of the 20th century can never call history horrible. The warfare of the Middle Ages was as bloody and devastating as anyone can imagine. But at least it was fought between men, for a reason, in the field of war. We wage war against pregnant women, vulnerable children, sick men, the poor and the insane.