History is a topic that need be treaded softly upon because there are multiple branches; personal and social. Each day we live we develop History, but that doesn't necessarily mean we make History in the public, social sense. Our personal History is thus an accretion of life events and perceptions of those life events, with our moralities constructed via reflecting upon and judging these perceptions and observations. The less we judge, the more reactionary and less informed we become as a person. The public perception of a society's History depends upon being more reactionary than inwardly deliberative because as oppose to our personal History--with which we have an intellect to understand and judge (though that doesn't mean everyone instinctively does)--to create social History, participants are required to interact via certain mechanisms like books, movies, hearsay, propaganda and poetry to sync up with one another. Hence, society's mechanisms and rituals attempt to provide in the concrete the same function the intellect provides the individual. Poetry was actually one of the earliest methods of historical recording due to its mnemonic nature; it made culturally meaningful events more fanciful and audience-friendly, thus more apt to transmission. Thus, the study of History entails focusing on the starkly different starting points, which makes History more of a delicate topic than the normal definition--"the study of past events"--accredits it with being.
If you were born in Europe in the early part of the 20th century, war was part of your culture. Even as a young child shielded from it--Orwell describes--you were indirectly affected. Page 284: "But the dead men had their revenge after all. As the war fell back into the past, my particular generation, those who had been 'just too young,' became conscious of the vastness of the experience they had missed. You felt yourself a little less than a man, because you had missed it...They talked about it unceasingly, with horror, of course, but also with a steadily-growing nostalgia." The common denominator between those shielded from war and those pushed into it? Patriotism. But this is a patriotism unlike our American patriotism, which exists in a bubble. (Check last post for more depth in this matter).
Orwell knew that his personal History was determined by his active decisions, and welcomed the person the severity of the situation revealed. On pages 285-6, "If I had to defend my reasons for supporting the war, I believe I could do so. There is no real alternative between resisting Hitler and surrendering to him, and from a Socialist point of view I should say that it is better to resist; in any case I can see no argument for surrender that does not make nonsense of the Republican resistance in Spain, the Chinese resistance to Japan, etc. etc. But I don't pretend that that is the emotional basis of my actions. What I knew in my dream that night was that the long drilling in patriotism which the middle classes go through had done its work, and that once England was in a serious jam it would be impossible to for me to sabotage." The actions we choose which create our personal History are thus influenced by social History, which is why we need to be careful. The function of social History isn't necessarily the same as that of personal History. The more we blindly conform, the more social our individual selves become, unaware of our world. Orwell impressively acknowledges his part in this, aware of the social pressuring, therefore at base maintaining his individuality. This doesn't mean he's autonomous and won't be affected by the pressures of the machines of social History, but simply that as an intellectual he's aware of the constraining and oppressing agents placed upon his shoulders. This allows self-judgement. Hence, when he chooses the Right over the Left in regard to his orientation to the war, he's more proactive about his premises than the ordinary, reactionary historically affected person. They are affected and led. He is affected but leads.
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