United Kingdom

Sir Antony Beevor warns modern values shouldn't be used to judge historical figures

Modern values should not be used to judge historical figures such as Sir Winston Churchill, according to the UK’s pre-eminent war historian.

Sir Antony Beevor warned that context was key when analysing the past and simplistic one-sided moral judgments risked distorting history.

The author, whose books on 20th Century conflicts have sold over eight million copies, cautioned that applying today’s values to earlier generations was a ‘great problem’.

Sir Antony Beevor warned that context was key when analysing the past and simplistic one-sided moral judgments risked distorting history. Pictured: Former Prime Minister Winston Churchill

The author (pictured), whose books on 20th Century conflicts have sold over eight million copies, cautioned that applying today’s values to earlier generations was a ‘great problem’

‘The duty of historians and the duty of a reader or a consumer of history is to understand the context and understand why people behave in a particular way,’ he told The Mail on Sunday. 

‘When I am writing about the Soviet Union or Germany in the Second World War, I think it’s terribly important to understand why people behaved so appallingly.

‘You have to understand, there is no point in trying to impose moral judgments on the past just because it’s not the way we would do things today.’

He added that he would support the repatriation of looted items, such as the Elgin Marbles (pictured), but only if the country of origin could prove they were able to take care of them

Sir Antony, who will be appearing at this year’s Daily Mail Chalke Valley History Festival, said people must explore the positive and negative aspects of any historical figure’s life.

‘An erased version of history is as much a distortion of as the pulling down of any great person. They are just opposites that distort,’ he said. 

‘You have to teach the dark side as well as the bright side of characters.’

He added that he would support the repatriation of looted items, such as the Elgin Marbles, but only if the country of origin could prove they were able to take care of them.

The Daily Mail Chalke Valley History Festival runs from June 23-27. Tickets go on sale on May 19 – visit cvhf.org.uk.

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