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Vilhelm Moberg on our history as a source of strength

Swedish history
1937: Coffee break in the hayfield in Ockelbo, Gästrlkland. Photo: Lars Lindberg / Länsmuseet Gävleborg

They say the winner makes history. But it's also true that history can make the winner. "He who controls the past controls the future. He who controls the present, controls the past," as George Orwell writes in his dystopian novel of the future 1984.

For Vilhelm Moberg, our history was more than entertainment and curiosity. It was more than exciting tales and an endless stream of names, events and dates. For Vilhelm Moberg, our history was bloody seriousness.

According to Moberg, our history is both a good teacher and a good source of strength, something we should look back on in difficult days "and remember our fathers' existence, our fathers' aspirations and problems", as he said in a speech at a defence loan party in Karlstad on 15 March 1942 during the burning world war.

It cannot be said often enough that our people on the whole are still very fortunate in comparison with other peoples of our continent. And in order to get comparisons from our own country, we should look back in heavy days like these and remember our fathers' existence, our fathers' struggles and problems - we should recall how their lives were shaped in hard times, similar to our own times. For our history is both a good teacher and a good source of strength - as we shall soon find out.

If we put ourselves into the lives of our fathers, we find that they have had to make infinitely greater sacrifices for the country than we Swedes living today have yet had to make. We then find that our people have been sorely afflicted and in great distress many times in their history. Many times their lives have been threatened. But it has survived - it has always been able to save its leisure time and its future. This fact can now give us, its descendants, a firm confidence, it can give us new strength to endure.

Vilhelm Moberg, Karlstad, 15 March 1942.

In a speech on Swedish Flag Day in Gävle on 6 June 1944, Moberg discusses the importance of possessing a true knowledge of one's history, and not being fooled by the false image that our freedom and the Swedish state of peace is something given from above, something that can be taken for granted for all time.

Vilhelm Moberg as a politician
Vilhelm Moberg, 1958.

And history can be a source of strength for a people, to which they turn in difficult times, when the clouds over the land darken. And a true knowledge of the history of our people can be a source of strength - though in a different sense from that which is sometimes advocated. The values of Swedish law and freedom have been spoken of as if our people had possessed them untouched throughout the ages, as if they had been given once and for all as a divine grace from above, a grace that shines on no other people than the Swedish. It is this image which is false, as anyone who has a deeper knowledge of our history than that conveyed by official textbooks knows. The truth is that these Swedish values have been conquered and defended in a tough and bitter struggle through the centuries, in a struggle against royal imperial power, in a struggle against oppressive domination. Our fathers have certainly gained nothing for nothing, neither the country nor the freedom they enjoyed in the country. But they were victorious in their struggle - and is not this fact all the more strengthening and exhilarating in these times?

Vilhelm Moberg, Gävle, 6 June 1944.

A true knowledge of one's history can be a source of power. Which also explains why certain ideological milieus on the far left, milieus that have increasingly dominated Swedish academia, media and the cultural sector since 1968, have long sought to deprive us Swedes of our history and deny us our culture and identity. "There is no Swedish culture", "There is nothing 'Swedish' or 'Swedes'", "We are all immigrants", well you know how it used to sound.

But today I have good news. It's easy to inoculate yourself and your children against such communist propaganda (because we know what Moberg thought of communists). Just open a good history book, preferably published before 1968, and you'll be immune to such self-defeating notions. For it is in this way that subversive propaganda of that nature is sustained solely by our own indifference to our history.

So read a book. Educate yourself. Why not start with Vilhelm Moberg's My Swedish history, or any of the books on this list! Learn about the two stories of Sweden. Know yourself, as the founder of the Nordic Museum and Skansen Artur Hazelius chose as his motto. For history is a good teacher, a guide, a compass - a message that Moberg conveys by opening his work of history My Swedish history with the following quote:

Any true history must, by its human and vivid presentation, make us remember that the past was once as real as the present and as uncertain as the future. In the light of what men once were, we can see what we are and dimly discern what we ought to be.

G. M. Trevelyan in Clio, 1955

You are a historical being, a cultural being, a product of all the generations that lived before you. So what do you see when you look back at the generations that lived before us? What do they, our ancestors, say when they see us today? Perhaps they say what they have always said from generation to generation, which can be summed up in the cultural treasure that is our Swedish proverbs.

There is nothing new under the sun.

Expect the best, but think of the worst.

Freedom is about more than silver and gold.

By the sound the ore is known, by the speech the man is tested.

Fine words do not fill the stomach.

He that maketh himself a sheep shall be eaten of wolves.

It's too late to put a lid on the well when the child has drowned.

It's easier to tear down than to build up.

Better to take warning from words, than from blows.

He who does not look up with his eyes, must look up with his scrotum.

He who is silent consents.

Better to suffer for truth, than to pay for a lie.

Do the right thing and fear no one.

Our ancestors may not have encountered politicians of the calibre who rule and rule over us today, but they did survive wolf winters, plagues, crop failures, famine, oppression, countless wars and more suffering than we can ever imagine. Through hard and bitter struggle, they conquered, defended and recaptured their freedoms, their peace.

And you know what?

Now it's our fight.

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