Most people will give you a straight answer to the question "was the invasion of Iraq a good idea?" But try asking a historian whether they think the French Revolution was a good idea...
The events that historians deal with are not 'live' political ones and it seems more obvious to them that the overall consequences (and moral interpretations) of any historical event are always far from clearcut.
Now, I wouldn't want to suggest that we give balanced essay-style answers to today's pressing political questions, but I do think our debates would benefit from the following approach:
- When you assert that an event is either a positive step or a necessary evil, don't be ashamed to own up to and discuss some at least of the really bad things it involves, such as the deaths of innocents etc.
- Conversely, when you insist that it is or was an avoidable ill, please be prepared to acknowledge openly that it might actually have had some positive consequences.
This may not appear to be such a big ask, but people do seem to be more impressed with their own views the more unequivocal they are.