In a week when the oldest recorded message in a bottle was discovered, I wonder what it would be like to send a message the other way, back into our past. What would we tell our younger selves and indeed the world?
A message in a bottle tossed into the sea off Germany 101 years ago and believed to be the world’s oldest was found by a surprised fisherman only last month. The beer bottle containing the scribbled message on a modest postcard dated May 17th, 1913 was pulled out of the Baltic sea, off the northern city of Kiel. The Danish postcard written by a man called Richard Platz had two German stamps on it and a polite message asking the finder to post it on to his address in Berlin.
Holger von Neuhoff of the Maritime Museum in Hamburg said: “This is certainly the first time such an old message in a bottle was found, particularly with the bottle still intact.” Researchers then set about identifying the author and managed to track down his 62-year-old granddaughter Angela Erdmann, who still lives in Berlin. “It was almost unbelievable,” Erdmann said after she was able to hold the brown bottle last week in Hamburg, “that was pretty moving,” Erdmann confessed. “Tears rolled down my cheeks.”
Von Neuhoff said researchers were able to determine based on the address that it was 20-year-old baker’s son Richard Platz who threw the bottle in the Baltic while on a hike with a nature appreciation group in 1913. A Berlin-based genealogical researcher then located Erdmann, who never knew Platz, her mother’s father who died in 1946 at the age of 54.
The day Nelson Mandela died, the British Prime Minister David Cameron described him as “a hero of our time.” Indeed, there cannot be many people out there, who doubt that he was. However, shortly after Mandela’s funeral, images began to surface on social media of the “hang Mandela” posters created by the Federation of Conservative Students (FCS) in the 1980s.
It is hard to fathom nowadays, but the British Conservative government under Margaret Thatcher did indeed describe Nelson Mandela and the African National Congress (ANC) he represented as terrorists. Moreover, along with Ronald Reagan’s administration in the US, they actively supported a policy of “constructive engagement” with the apartheid government in Pretoria rather than sanctions against an ally they believed was tempering the spread of communism in Africa. Indeed, it was probably this policy in particular that kept Mandela incinerated on Robben Island, off Cape Town for longer than was necessary.
This dark chapter of apartheid support has long since been swept under the political carpet, but it’s not forgotten by those of us who spent some of our spare days and nights among the activists manning the non-stop picket outside South Africa House, in London’s Trafalgar Square, which ran continuously for years. These days it won’t surprise anyone to discover that few people will now openly admit to even being a member of the FCS, like Boris Johnson and Michael Gove, let alone admit they actually had a Hang Mandela poster on their bedroom wall or wore one of the thousands of badges and T-shirts that were made for that particularly nasty little campaign.
There was initially some speculation that David Cameron was once seen wearing one of these vile badges. Although it is now generally accepted that he had little or no role in that particular FCS campaign, despite the fact a 23-year-old Cameron did enjoy a trip to apartheid South Africa in 1989, whilst Mandela was still in prison, on a “fact-finding mission” funded by Strategy Network International (SNI). This lobby group was formed in 1985 specifically to fight against the imposition of sanctions on apartheid South Africa.
Hindsight or Foresight
Like many people, there have been times in my life, when I had wished I could have put back the clock and done something quite differently to change one particular situation or other from my past. We are all imperfect and flawed. It has always been a part of the human condition, to make mistakes but then to hopefully learn from them.
In 1913 German power was at its apex and it was more than capable of dominating Europe and influencing world politics for decades to come if only Kaiser Wilhelm II hadn’t succumbed to his jingoistic hatred of Britain and plunged his country in to a ruinous war. Just how ruinous would have been inconceivable to Richard Platz, the 20 year old, who threw the bottle into the sea that same year. I wonder what Platz would have told his younger self if he had been given that chance on his death bed in 1946?
By then Berlin had all but been levelled by the Red Army after the German people were dragged into yet another disastrous war. And yet, there may well have been no Red Army, because there would have been no Russian Revolution fermented by the deprivations of war, and Hitler may well have been more interested in his gift for art, rather than the twisted politics he picked up in the trenches of World War One. So the map of Europe, and for that matter the world may well have looked like quite differently if the old Platz had also used the opportunity to warn the world against reacting, as it eventually did, to that single shot fired into an Archduke in Sarajevo in 1914?
Although less dramatic, a similar thing could also be said about Boris Johnson. Given the chance again how quickly would Johnson, now into his second term as London Mayor, be to rush into the arms of that nest of precocious bigotry: the Federation of Conservative Students (FCS) in the 1980’s?
Perhaps more importantly, will enough people even remember his past, when the Conservatives finally decide, whether or not to give him his shot at becoming party leader and therefore, quite possibly Prime Minister, once Cameron steps down? So it remains to be seen whether the voting public continue to be entertained and fooled by the bumbling Boris buffoon act and his serial gaffes and affairs, for which he is famous; or will some of us think twice about voting for a man, who once not only advocated apartheid and capital punishment, but also by association, wanted to see Nelson Mandela hanged?