Dear readers, as my book “The First Casualty – The Untold Story of the Falklands War” moves towards publication, I thought I would share with you a few thoughts on history, how to read, absorb and write it and especially the best history lesson I ever had. Indeed, the only one I ever needed.
I think it must have been in 1990 when I walked into my first secondary school History lesson with my favourite teacher John Wickham who stood there with the following lines written on the board:
ALL HISTORY IS BASED UPON EVIDENCE
ALL EVIDENCE IS OF VALUE
NOT OF EQUAL VALUE
THIS IS BECAUSE OF BIAS
I think in that one moment, I had learned everything about history. Funny isn’t it? You see, that really is what history is all about. Not what we make it mean, not what we want it to mean, not selection of facts because it is what we want to hear or read or have others believe – that’s bias. It is one of my sayings now, that; “Bias is the enemy of history.”
I give you a few examples here. When writing my new book, I came across a report from a Mr. Carlisle which said that the Argentine soldiers were firing blank ammunition! Crazy as that sounds, I had to take that as ‘evidence’ – however loose. Then it transpired that in 2000 he presented this fact to one of the Royal Marine Officers who was there at the time and he told him absolutely that there was no chance. Imagine my surprise when said gentleman repeated his allegations in 2012 to sell a new book! This was despite the facts. Despite stronger evidence. Despite being told. Still, this could be two opinions, so I asked a few Argentine veterans – absolutely no blanks! – There. Not what you want to believe, but what happened.
One person claimed to me yesterday (an old tale) that HMS Invincible was sunk in the Falklands and covered up; swapped for Illustrious and a secret new carrier built. Now, I could rubbish this instantly – I’ve stood on the deck of HMS Invincible…and Illustrious. And Ark Royal actually, yes all three! However, I thought it best not to be lured into this bias trap of believing what I wanted to be true. I asked for the evidence and studied it. The words of the Argentine pilots, of the British sailors and airmen on Illustrious and of the curious little differences between both ships. The fact that there are photographs of both ships together in late June 1982 kind of seals the deal. Invincible was not attacked, damaged nor sunk. However, I looked at the evidence and weighed it evenly.
I suppose it’s like that old saying; “One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter” – it depends upon your point of view. But that isn’t objective. I come back to the Falklands again and invite you to ask an Argentine and a Falkland Islander about the history of the islands. They won’t look or sound even remotely like each other. What actually happened has been absorbed by “What they made it mean.”
So this is really the only lesson you need. Treat everything in history evenly. If you find yourself throwing out what you don’t like, skipping over, dismissing, laughing off, instantly rubbishing….then go back and view the evidence. Address your bias.
Everyone is biased. All history is biased.The way you read it does not have to be.
History is, after all, just the truth…