Mark Andrews on Saturday: Remember the past, but don't lose sight of the present

The latest weekend column from Mark Andrews.

We should remember the past, but also focus on the present
We should remember the past, but also focus on the present

As we prepare for Remembrance Sunday, a new survey finds that the majority of Britons do not know that six million Jews were murdered during the Holocaust.

Now it would be very easy to harrumph and talk about ignorance among young people. And as many of you will quite rightly point out, I have been known to harrumph a little myself when it comes to what is being taught in schools these days.

But on this occasion, I think we should cut both young people and the teachers a little slack. Schools today put far more effort into teaching children about the horrors of Nazi Germany and the Second World War than they ever did in the 1970s and 80s. Indeed, I can't actually remember a school history lesson which tackled anything more recent than the English Civil War. 20th Century history was not considered to be history back then.

What we did have, though, was an immediate connection with the conflict, through immediate relatives who served in the forces or lived through it. As this generation dwindles, the connection is broken. It is inevitable that people's understanding will become weaker. But it is also important that these things are never forgotten.

One of the reasons Hitler's regime was allowed to fester was that too many people, chastened by the experience of the First World War, chose to look the other way and hope for the best.

People convinced themselves that Hitler, a democratically elected leader, was simply rebuilding his country and dragging it into the modern age. They turned a blind eye to reports about human rights abuses, and our sportsmen gave the Nazi salute at the Munich Olympics. Few people wanted to rock the boat.

Today, retailers worry about whether they will get their deliveries from China in time for Christmas. Consumers fill their boots with cheap tech from China, while putting reports about Uighur Muslims being rounded up, put into 're-education' camps and forcibly sterilised to the back of their minds. All this persecution of minorities is terrible, but you can't deny little Johnnie his games console, can you?

Of course, these things are easy said, and the truth it is near-impossible to know where every item is made. But maybe if we all stopped buying this stuff – and perish the thought, were willing to pay extra for goods made in this country – then maybe such abuses would be less common. The problem is, while we are very good in this country at making empty protests against perceived injustice, we are far less willing to put our money where our mouth is. It is far easier to put a post on Facebook than it is to deny oneself.

This weekend we all have a duty to remember the past. But we must not lose focus on the present either.

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