”History will be my judge,” Tony Blair continues to say of his decision to go to war in Iraq. He is not the first to appeal to this court. Are the precedents good?
“Posterity will judge,” said Napoleon as his armies spread across Europe. It did, but not favourably. The Spanish dictator Franco also thought he was “responsible only to God and history”. Not much comfort for Blair there, either. Hitler, receiving a prison sentence after the failed Munich Beer Hall putsch of 1923, declared that “history will tear to tatters the verdict of this court”. In 1940, it looked as if Hitler was right. But history changed its mind.
Blair may find more comfort in John Adams, one of the architects of the US Declaration of Independence, who called on Americans in 1802 to “Think of your forefathers! Think of posterity!” Or the PM may be inspired by Robert Emmet, who led an Irish rebellion against the English and was convicted of treason in 1803. As he went to the gallows (watch out, Tony!) he said that “posterity must determine” the value of his cause. W B Yeats was to record that “Ireland has placed him foremost among her saints of nationality”.
Perhaps Blair’s best hope is to follow Winston Churchill. He said: “History will be kind to me, for I intend to write it.”