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Meesa gonna kill you!

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Friday, February 25, 2011

On Great Men and how to know you're doing Good History

"We are here and it is now. Further than that all human knowledge is moonshine." - H. L. Mencken

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Simon Sebag Montefiore on writing a book about Jerusalem (from the BBC History Magazine February 2011 podcast):

"To Arabs and many moderate Jews Menachem Begin is a terrorist and a monster. To virtually all Jews and many Arabs the Mufti is also a terrorist and a monster, for example. And yet they, both of them remain heroes to parts of their own constituency.

Of course, the further one goes back, it's easy to make people heroes, because once you pass a certain stage, you know, people traditionally regard Genghis Khan as a Great Man. Or Suleiman the Magnificent. They were all incredibly brutal.

So, the further back one goes the easier it is to have heroes. But the more intimate
you want to look at people, it's hard to have heroes. Of course, many of these monstruous people - like Herod, for example, were the greatest builders, who had the most beautiful buildings.

So one is tempted to admire them for their building. And at the same time, one has to remember what they did to people...

Everyone's done something wrong, and I guess the only people who come out of it really kind of nobly are the writers. And who are they?

The writers of the Bible, great poets, the Victorian writers who visited... and even they often sort of encouraged, they had a special power.

I mean, even the archaeologists, there have been riots about archaeology. When they opened the Temple tunnels, several hundred people died as a result of riots, you know.

This is an insane world where this stuff really matters, and that's right: I can't think of anybody. I can't think of any of the politicians that didn't kill somebody. It's very depressing...

One still loves the city, even as one regards it as something dark and brooding and dangerous. Frightening...

Every side in the story has tried to sort of tell me their view. I've had to go away and work out what I think is actually true, and of course that won't please everybody. It won't please anybody. [My book] should displease everybody a bit... It's been read by all sorts of different people, and none of them quite satisfied with it. Which is a good sign. They all want more of their view in it."
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