Learning From History

Lord McConnell




Earlier this week I had the honour to Chair the APPG on Conflict Issues as we hosted Lieutenant-General Romeo Dallaire who has been a member of the Canadian Senate but, more famously, was Force Commander of UNAMIR, the UN peacekeeping mission deployed to Rwanda before the genocide in 1994. Lieutenant-General Dallaire warned of the genocide preparations, and defied orders to save thousands of lives. On Monday, he spoke to us about his campaign on child soldiers.

His book, Shake Hands with the Devil, had a lasting impact on me when I read it over a decade ago. It tells of his experience during the Rwandan genocide, the indifference of the international community and the brutality that he witnessed as over 800,000 were slaughtered in 100 days. But Dallaire’s final words in the book make the case for hope. He insists that we can prevail over conflict and on this day, Holocaust Memorial Day, that message should ring out, loud and clear.

Holocaust Memorial Day remembers the atrocities that plagued Europe under Nazi Germany. The theme for 2016 is Don’t Stand By, which addresses the danger of silence in the face of unfolding persecution and genocide. The Holocaust taught us many lessons. The Rwandan Genocide challenged us more recently with others. So today we should declare that we will not stand by and be inactive and complicit in the face of terror. We must recognise that the actions we take, and the actions we fail to take, can have an impact on people many miles from where we live, and on our common humanity.

Commemoration is vital to renewing our understanding of the suffering of millions under the Holocaust, other genocides and current atrocities. But education is also vital if we are to keep the message strong and stop history from repeating itself.

The UCL Centre for Holocaust Education provides food for thought. They surveyed schools across England to assess knowledge and understanding of the Holocaust. Positively, they found that 83% said it was important to study the Holocaust in school and 70% who had learned about it wanted to know more. But there were large gaps in knowledge. Students commonly drew on stereotypes about Jews and a third could not define ‘anti-semitism’. We need to protect and enhance the educational opportunities and resources we use about genocide and work with organisations like the CHE to make sure this information is made readily available.

We need to understand these past events in order to look for signs of their repetition in the future. As atrocities took place in and around Germany we failed to act. And in Rwanda in 1994 our actions were just not good enough. A recent report by UNA-UK on Responsibility to Protect highlights the importance of early warning signs: of knowing what to look for and how to act upon it. Our world is currently experiencing conflicts with horrific atrocities against civilians that remind us again of the need for prevention and action. The UNA-UK report proposes mechanisms to identify threats and to protect those citizens who are routinely overlooked. The most marginalised and the hardest to reach live in the nations’ with the greatest conflict and fragility. On Holocaust Memorial Day we must remember the time when we did not meet the expectations of these people, but we must also hope and believe that through education, empathy and engagement we will prevail over conflict.



2 comments for “Learning From History

  1. MilesJSD
    28/01/2016 at 6:33 pm

    What about learning from the “denied history”,
    including from the tremendous human-development and educational advances many of which are only being shown in book-lists within such voluntary not-for-profit-nor-power ‘”Earth-citizenship” websites as http://www.lifefresh.co.uk

    and can be bought by any individual and learned-from (e.g. via amazon.uk books);

    but are being deliberately excluded by universities, even from their ‘peripheral-reading’ shelves and catalogues;

    and are also being malfeasantly, blindly, even I would say “stupidly”,
    made “non-existent” by Governmental “you do not need to know” limitations ?

    Further, if you honestly do want us millions, and billions worldwide, of human-beings to effectively help you to govern effectively, and thereby to prevent “cannon-foddering” [which incidentally is being done by Governmental levels just like yours, LordMcConnell]

    then you need to start holisticly-enabling us:
    at least we need your recognition and proactive-promotion of every one of those denied http://www.lifefresh.co.uk listed historical and educational-advances.

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