– By Adrian Kerr, Manager, Museum of Free Derry, Ireland

 Why do we have to remember events like the bombing of Gernika? Why, 75 years on, is it so important that such events be publicly commemorated rather than just read about in history books?

 We have to remember it to remind ourselves and everyone else of what it actually was. It was not an unfortunate action in war, it was a war crime. It was the deliberate targeting of a civilian population by the military.

 And this is accepted fact now in the case of Gernika, despite the Franco regime’s attempts to distort the facts. Today, there is an ongoing effort in Spain to make sense of and come to terms with this history. But what about other cases where the perpetrators are still in power, where their stories remain as the almost unchallenged history of the event?

 How often is the bombing of Dresden for instance, which was also the deliberate targeting of a civilian population by an enemy air force, referred to as a crime? Or the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki? Hundreds of thousands of civilians died in these attacks but how often are they referred to as crimes? Rarely, because the perpetrators won and then wrote the history books.

 We have a similar situation here in the north of Ireland. During the most recent phase of conflict here over 3,500 people died, which is a high percentage in a region that had a population of only 1.5 million, or less than half that of the city of Madrid. The history books and mainstream media carry the official version of events that says the war was between two opposing sides, irrationally split by religion and politics, and that the British intervened as a peacemaker to try to end the war. They ignore the role of the British in creating the conditions for war here and in becoming actively involved in and prolonging it. They stick with the line that the paramilitaries were terrorists but that those in uniform were peacekeepers. For instance, even though the British government have now apologised for Bloody Sunday, and admitted that all those who died were completely innocent, it is still not a crime to them, it was just a mistake. But that is not our experience of it.

 And history is about experience, not just facts and figures. It is about people, and it is subjective and relative. This is why Sites of Conscience like the Gernika Peace Museum, which help us to understand history based on people’s experience of it, are so important. Sites of Conscience encourage us to explore how different events came to be, who was responsible, and what repercussions different people and nations faced, and where and why similar events are still happening today.

 At the Museum of Free Derry we tell a story that often features in history books, but we tell it in a way that doesn’t. We tell it from the point of view of the people who lived through it, of the community who experienced it. Through the efforts of the museum and the Bloody Sunday Justice Campaign out of which it grew, and other like-minded organisations, history is being revealed and rewritten. In more and more cases the British are being forced to accept that killings carried out by their forces were wrong, that their victims were unarmed civilians and not armed combatants as they always claimed. And this is happening because people refused to forget, refused to let go of their history and let others write it.

 At the Museum of Free Derry we share our history so that lessons can be learned, not so that our history can be sanitised to suit those responsible. We remember so that those responsible cannot be allowed to forget what they did.


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