If we didn’t start the fire, are we to blame?

Billy Joel wrote a song about the legacy any current generation inherits from its forebears and questions how to deal with the ills of the past.  The chorus begins with the words: “We didn’t start the fire; it was always burning, since the world’s been turning…”

Of course, such ‘fires’ burned brightly at different times and in different ways and we cannot deny that many folk were affected resulting in all sorts of mistreatment.

“Yes, but if I didn’t light the blue touch paper, how can I be held responsible?” and yet so often I feel that the finger is pointing in my direction.

In recent times there has been pressure put upon this current generation to apologise for any number of past sins such as slavery, the ill-treatment of women and persecution of homosexuality. For example, a while back statues of prominent ‘pillars of society’ were being vandalised or removed because their past also included involvement with the slave trade.  Such instances were fuelled by much passion and a desire for the high moral ground. However, do such means justify the ends?

After all, I didn’t start any of those specific fires. They were burning long before I was even thought of.” 

Is it right that ordinary law-abiding citizens are inconvenienced by a select group of idealists augmented, arguably, by a bank of rent-a-mob anarchists?

Don’t get me wrong, the ‘fires’ of the past were just that; ‘fires’, but any evaluation of a historical situation requires careful assessment and an acknowledgement of the context.

As I write, the world is still paying tribute to the late Queen Elizabeth II.  One of her quotes is very appropriate as we consider this matter. It comes from a particularly sensitive visit to Dublin back in 2011.  She said: “With the benefit of historical hindsight, we can all see things which we would wish had been done differently, or not at all.”

Might it be better that the passion and desire for the moral high ground be harnessed and redirected in a more positive and on-going way?

What to do about it now: to tear down or to build up? Might it be better that, say, those who are so incensed about slavery in the past, focus less on demolishing statues that act as visible reminders and instead concentrate more on the inequalities of the present in order to eradicate the same problem today and fight hard to ensure that it does not continue into the future.

Returning to Mr Joel and his song, the next line in the chorus:

“We didn’t start the fire. No, we didn’t light it, but we tried to fight it.”

Real action rather than empty apologies: harder to achieve but surely more worthwhile.

I don’t know what you reckon but it’s worth a thought… 

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