"Foul as it is, even hell is defiled by the presence of King John." Matthew Paris wrote that eulogy for the King of England some time after John's demise. It is precisely what it is: an indictment of a man's very core. In the 20th century, a professor demonstrated that the primary chronicle source for King John was inaccurate and his reputation has since improved, but his contemporaries and near contemporaries despised him in letters.
With a few careless strokes of Shakespeare's quill, Richard III went from gallant defender of his brother Edward the IV's realm to child-killing hunchback. He fought valiantly at Bosworth Field but was killed in the conflict after being betrayed by his allies. Henry VII assumed the throne and poor Richard was discarded as fodder for the spite of Tudor chroniclers. Only recently has his star been retrieved from the dustbin of history to be shined and returned to its rightful place.
Thomas Jefferson was hailed for two centuries of American history as a founding father with a warm heart and love for the common man. Then, as if the blinds were removed from a weathered window, his affair with one of his slaves came to light. Monticello mansion became an analogy for all that was wrong with America's early years: a duplicitous standard for freedom and justice. It is hard for a slave owner to be a true advocate for liberty in the mindset of the technological age.
Adolf Hitler killed six million people of Jewish heritage because he sought some twisted final solution. He was universally, and rightly, reviled. His Soviet contemporary received a temporary pass on judgment for killing 10 million Russians because he allied with the "West" in World War II. Now, "Uncle Joe" is essentially viewed in the same light as Hitler, even though most people would say that Hitler was worse in spite of having killed fewer people over a shorter time span.
History has an interesting way of revealing — or concealing, as the case may be — the truth about the events in which we live. Bill Clinton stood before the cameras and uttered the famous phrase "I did not have sexual relations with that woman." Most people now concede that the impeachment process against Clinton was a little over the top. Yet almost all will agree that he will be remembered most as the president who introduced his sex life into the Oval Office.
In the Virgin Islands, we seem to be under the Chinese curse that wishes people to live in interesting times. From the inside, we can only see frightfully appalling circumstances. We hear and read more bad news and discuss more controversial decisions every day. One wonders who, at the end of the day, will be labeled as the bad guys.
It is a good thing to be able to sleep with a clear conscience.
Editor's note: Bill Turner is a writer, a former history teacher and the executive director of the St. Croix Environmental Association. He writes a daily commentary on events in the Virgin Islands that can be accessed at V.I. Buzz.
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