As I have a lot of work to do (cleaning this place takes forever), need to get to bed early and have two large men with rifles camping outside my bathroom (really) I figured it would be a good time to publish one of the ‘Secret posts’.
Whenever I’m alone for extended periods of time I think about History. I guess I’m a very lazy History-buff – I don’t watch documentaries on the History channel or anything but I like to hear the stories and read and ask questions. I love being able to drive around and know why a river is named what it is, and what happened there (it also makes conversation on road trips easier, albeit mildly one-sided).
My mom was a history teacher before I was born and she always had awesome stuff lying around, like Napoleon teaching packs (they were SO cool, like a bunch of news clippings and pictures and telegrams and things. I know now that they were fake, but the 10 year old me never thought about the fact that French newspaper articles were published in English was at all suspect. I was obsessed with the Napoleonic era back then (there were other info packs, like ancient Egypt, and the world wars and stuff, but they only got dusted off when I had school projects) to a point where I wonder if I was born somewhere where they had those crazy re-enactment people I might have joined in. I secretly longed to join the navy and learn to climb rigging and eat limes to avoid scurvy…
I took History in high school and loved it until I had an ardent socialist for a teacher at one stage who picked on me mercilessly and gave me awful marks because I would argue back pro-capitalism based on the fact that socialism and human nature don’t mesh well (in my opinion anyway). Either way somehow I came out of it knowing how to write an essay (my ‘work’ writing is actually pretty concise and focussed, who’d have known?) which basically carried me through university as well as a bunch of ‘useless’ knowledge.
I live thinking about things now and wondering how they will be studied by bored teenagers in the future. I remember learning to analyse cartoons to understand the general public attitude to world events which gives me a vey different view on Zapiro’s latest to some people. I don’t really remember much pre-1994 (I turned 9 a week after the elections to great stress to me – what if there were elections a week before I turned 18? Would they let me vote?) but as I speak to people now or people ask me questions I’ve been putting the little fragments of memories into context and understanding why people acted as they did. The frantic stockpiling of baked beans and candles is one of the more recently resolved mysteries!
Anyway I’ve been thinking a lot about the Great Man Theory – did History happen the way it did because of a few special individuals? The alternative (which I’ve always subscribed to) is that circumstances socially, politically, economically and so on mean that the world is at near-to-boiling point each time one of those people appears. If those great leaders hadn’t been born, someone else would have done their job and the world today would be the same as always except for slightly different street names.
But lately I’ve been wondering if that’s true. South Africa went from a pretty nasty police-state to democracy without a civil war or any of the alternatives to what happened. Would that have happened without Mandela’s leadership? I’ve been reading a lot on African History lately and the comparison of my home to other ex-colonies is just plain scary!
Would Germany have become Germany without the awesomely manipulative Bismarck (one of my favourite historical characters, he was a LEGEND!)? What about the president in South America who asked for a pay cut for himself and his cabinet so that they could put money into education and infrastructure? What are the chances that there would be another one of those waiting in the wings?
So what’s the answer? Is the world we live in a consequence of a few great men (and women) or is it all just inevitable?