Angela Findlay (website) spoke to the WP a year and a half ago about her work using art in prisons to help offenders in their rehabilitation. Today she returned, to speak about her work researching her mother’s family’s German ancestry, and particularly her reflections on her grandfather’s career as a Wehrmacht general. He fought heroically in the German campaigns in Russia and Italy, before being captured and kept as a PoW, first by the Americans, and then by the British until 1948. Subsequently he was a broken man…
Angela wanted to find out how complicit her grandfather was in Nazi atrocities, to what extent he was a ‘true’ Nazi, and why he was so broken after the war. She found much ambiguity, and no clear answers, but her discussion then spread out to cover Germany as a whole, and the wounds she still has from that terrible period. She showed pictures of modern memorials to the victims of the Nazis, not, as in Britain, statues of heroic soldiers which one has to look up to, but upside-down monuments, or towers which sink into the ground, or Jews’ name-plaques in pavements polished to a shine by pedestrians’ feet.
It was a very moving afternoon, made so not just by the subject matter, but by the clarity and depth of Angela’s responses to what she has discovered.
This week Academic Director of Radley College, Mr Stephen Rathbone, enlightened the Williams Project faithful with a resounding presentation on the topic: ‘Revolutions: Meet the new boss, same as the old boss’. It was a great pleasure for all budding historians and political scientists as our eyes were exposed to the fact that not everything in history appears as it seems. His presentation boomeranged us on a historical timeline of revolutions from Chigwell to Paris, Moscow, Beijing, Tahir Square and then back to present day riotous London.
Little beforehand had we noticed the veracity of George Orwell’s statement ‘one does not establish a dictatorship in order to safeguard a revolution; one makes a revolution in order to establish a dictatorship.’ Mr Rathbone revealed to us the transition from apparently glorious revolutions to the homicidal megalomania of Robespierre, Stalin and Mao. He left us in the end with an empowering message to go forth and convert our passions into a bank of historical knowledge and understanding, even suggesting iconic pieces of literature to begin with. It was a wonderful experience for all who attended.
Professor Geoffrey Hawthorn, from the University of Cambridge, spoke to two WP audiences about the Athenian general and historian Thucydides, and how, when he read him later in life, he found him to be greatest writer on politics there has been. Thucydides’ account of the Peloponnesian War, fought between Athens and Sparta from 431-404 BC, is remarkable for its refusal to tell us what to think; the bare-boned narrative, punctuated by full-scale debates where participants argue what courses of action to take, gives us just people’s deeds and their words – there is no explanatory ideology, no religious or political framework. It is intensely human.
Afterwords many students stayed for refreshments and to discuss the talk with Geoffrey. It was a particularly special meeting, as Patricia Williams, Bernard’s widow, was able to be with us again.
James Grime, from the University of Cambridge, introduced a large WP audience to codes and their history (from shaving a slave’s head to sending credit card details across the internet), and then demonstrated an original Enigma machine (see right). It was an engaging and fun session, and led to an interesting discussion on the use of codes in the Second World War, and finally to a code-breaking workshop where our students broke, or attempted to break, various encoded messages. A great start to the WP year.
Our own biologist-drummer-ancient historian Mr Eardley introduced the two younger branches of the WP to the campaigns of Darius, and his son Xerxes, against Greece. Particularly at risk was the fledgling democracy in Athens. With maps, anecdotes and wit he led us through the personalities, the military aspects, and then on to wider questions about the importance of the Greek victories for the rest of Western European history.
The Revd. David Cooper, our current temporary chaplain, gave a clear and illustrated account, to the youngest and middle branches of the Williams Project, of the Iraq he, as Head of Civil Affairs, was involved in trying to rebuild. He explained the division between the Kurdish north, the Marsh Arabs in the south, and the mixed centre, and gave us a fascinating insight into the plight of the different elements of the Iraqi people both under Saddam Hussain and the American-led invasion & occupation. He discussed the controversy about whether to reflood the drained marshes and give back to the Marsh Arabs their traditional, yet unhealthy and uncomfortable, lifestyle, as well as sharing insights into the reasons for the invasion, and the calibre of George W. Bush.