Please do not rewrite history, there is too much to learn

In the US, a few states have acquiesced to the push by some conservative funding groups to whitewash history. The target is the Advanced Placement US History curriculum. The problem the group is solving in their minds is we do not pat ourselves on the back enough and discuss American exceptionalism. I will forego the word exceptionalism as I can devote a whole post to this, but when we try to hide our warts and how we have protested or overcome those warts, we are missing a key part of our greatness – our ability as citizens to protest and right a wrong.

I have written before about May 35 which is a real reference to an imaginary date. Per the attached article in the New York Times, it is a reference to what happened in Tiananmen Square in China on June 4, 1989, which has been expunged from Chinese history, including internet search references to that date. So, to make sure the Chinese kids remember this protest which was brutally squashed by the Chinese army, historians established a May 35 web link.*

I mention this extreme, as we must know our history, the good, the bad and the ugly, to avoid repeating the same mistakes. Here are few things we must never forget and constantly remind ourselves and question the why, the where, the what, the when and the how around these issues. If we do not, we will repeat the same mistakes.

– our forefathers did not give women the right to vote in our US Constitution. This was not remedied until 1921 after a significant and building level of women protests.

– our forefathers did not disallow slavery, but to give the southern states more clout agreed to count slaves as 3/5 of a person. Slavery was not outlawed until near the end of the Civil War in 1865.

– our ancestors conducted a war on Native Americans who would not play ball to let settlers live amongst them as we seized their land. These tribal leaders were constantly lied to, mislead and slaughtered in some cases. Eventually, we made tribes move to designated areas for their own protection.

– during the industrial revolution, business tycoons exploited everyone and everything to make their profits. These folks were called Robber Barons and it took a concentrated effort of President Teddy Roosevelt to make sure Americans got a Square Deal. The traits of these Robber Barons can be found today in major funders of political elections who want to win and do away with those pesky regulations around job safety, pay equity, and environment, etc. that get in their way.

– one of our greatest Presidents in FDR confessed later his chagrin over having to place Japanese Americans into guarded camps during World War II. It was a malpractice on the rights of Americans and leaves a bad taste in many mouths.

– we remain the only country to ever drop a nuclear bomb on people and did it twice. While we may understand the rationale, as bringing a Japanese surrender would have been a horribly bloody affair, we need to learn from this and never, ever let it come to this again.

– although slavery ended 100 years earlier, it took a major effort of protests and marches to bring codified rights of equality to African-Americans ending a long period of Jim Crow laws and the killing and maltreatment of people of color. This racism still festers in our country, but we need to shed a spotlight when we see poor behavior, such as the masked Voter ID laws that usually carry Jim Crow like provisions.

– one of the reasons Iranians do not trust Americans is in 1953, the CIA helped overthrow a Democratically elected leader to establish the Shah of Iran who was supportive of the US. The Shah was overthrown by rebellion in 1979. My guess is over 95% of Americans are not aware this happened. Why do they hate us so much, many may ask?

– one President came very close to being impeached, only saving himself from this fate when he resigned. President Nixon used to say “I am not a crook.” Mr. Nixon, you are wrong. You are a crook and ran a burglary ring from the White House, had a dirty deeds campaign to discredit Edmund Muskie forcing him to resign his campaign, and had an enemies list who you spied on with the help of J. Edgar Hoover.  While you did some good things, you got less than what you deserved as you dishonored the White House and dozens of your compatriots went to jail, including your two key advisors.

– we supported folks like Osama Bin Laden to help repel the Soviet army from Afghanistan (watch “Charlie Wilson’s War”). Once the Soviets left, we left these folks high and dry and the country fell apart. After 9/11, when we had a chance to get Bin Laden, we let him get away. To save face, President Bush led the invasion of an old nemesis in Saddam Hussein under the premise he possessed Weapons of Mass Destruction. This information was fabricated from misdirection that Hussein used to let his enemies think he was more powerful than he was. We have been paying for this invasion for twelve years and will still pay for it with ISIS, who was formed from the police force we helped fire. Our weariness from the wars also led President Obama to pull troops from Iraq leaving the country less stable and underestimate the problem in Syria. A historian notes we overreacted to 9/11 and underreacted to Syria, as a result..

I could go on, but we need to remember all of these moments. We have a great country, but it is an imperfect one. We must learn from these events and avoid repeating mistakes and instead emphasize the equality of all Americans. If we forget our history, then we will not learn from our mistakes and do them again. A good example is fighting an elongated unwinnable war in Vietnam. The same thing happened in Iraq. We owe it to our soldiers to have a set strategy and a definition of what winning looks like. This is their message to our leaders – we do not mind fighting for our country, but give us support and an end goal.

Do not let anyone whitewash history. We need to know the good, the bad and the ugly, as all three are there to be found. We need to avoid the need for May 35th.

* http://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/24/opinion/global/24iht-june24-ihtmag-hua-28.html?_r=0eal

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12 thoughts on “Please do not rewrite history, there is too much to learn

  1. Another, new RepubliCANT mantra is to never let the facts get in the way of a good story. Your piece is a wonderful example.

    • Thanks Barney. The thing that scares me most, is they know what they are doing by obfuscating the facts. The fossil fuel PR folks call this “win ugly.”

  2. Excellent post. I would add to your bullet point about suffrage that the women who were “protesting” were arrested and continued to protest in jail through a hunger strike. It is portrayed it the movie Iron Jawed Angels, which you might like. Also, I just wrote an academic article on the important of antenarrative, or fragments of history that are left out of grand narratives. Those antenarratives often tell a richer and more nuanced story. They often tell the “real” story.

    • Emily, thanks. I have not heard of that movie, so I will check it out. It sounds like something I would enjoy. The antenarrative concept is excellent and I agree that we leave out a lot of context or fragments. One of the best examples of this is a comment made by someone who has researched and written about our Middle East travails. He notes we overreacted to 9/11 and, as a result, underreacted to Syria. The President let a war weary America dictate a decision to not help in Syria that we now regret. The 9/11 comment is we turned a group of 200 al Qaeda world wide into a much larger and multi-generational enemy of the west. These issues are related, yet those who want to rewrite recent history are helping us miss the greater lesson. Thanks for your comments, BTG

      PS – can you share your article?

  3. Bravo! You are spot on: if history is not true, it is fiction, it is not history. I think w need to ponder the question of whether this country is truly “great” any more or whether we are riding on a reputation based on past history. If we are going to be truly honest, after all, we must admit we seem to have lost sight of the moral high ground as a nation.

    • Hugh, thanks. I have cited this book before, but everyone leader should read “That Used to be Us: How America Fell Behind in the World it Invented and How it can come Back” by Thomas Friedman and Michael Mandelbaum. It echoes what you just said. Our greatness is the public/ private partnership to invest in our country. There are some who want to ignore that fact and are trying to diminish efforts to invest in out country. We are 16th in infrastructure, in the 20s in math and science and one survey has in the 40s for socio-economic mobility. But, at least we are number one as the most obese country in the world and in funding a military. Thanks for your comment, BTG

      • So our greatness lies in the size of our citizens coupled with the size of our military!! You are right: we need to get more “invested” — and push the food away a bit more often.

      • We are clearly number one in those areas. This whole exceptionalism issue is sad and funny. There are some who feel if you recognize our imperfections, you are being unpatriotic. In my view, if someone wants to tout unachievable perfections apologizing for nothing, that is jingoism. It is good citizenship to expect more from our leaders and to right wrongs when we see them. That is what distinguishes America more than anything else.

  4. Note to Readers: One of my frustrations is when people try to rewrite history for political reasons. We are seeing that with Jeb’s candidacy and will see that some with Hillary as well.

    With the Supreme Court hearing the ACA case over words taken out of a greater context around the subsidies, I am reminded of how adamant the Tea Party leadership embodied in Senator Jim DeMint and others were to have Romneycare for the entire country. DeMint and others especially like the mandate for coverage as it showed “personal responsibility.” He wrote a letter to President Bush and went on the talk show circuit and Romney campaign trails in 2008.

    With Obamacare borrowing from Romneycare including the mandate, when Romney ran in 2012, DeMint declared BOTH Romneycare and Obamacare “unconstitutional.” But, you said…..

    On the Heritage website, DeMint as President portrays Obamcare with a hammer and sickle as it is socialism, a government takeover. He knows better – Obamacare is the opposite of a takeover using largely the insurance industry, with Medicaid expansion for people in poverty. Oh by the way, Obamacare is working under a variety of measures as is Romneycare, which has also lowered mortality rates in Massachussetts per the Harvard School of Medicine.

    These facts need to be shared with more, as the people so adamant against it are not hearing this information.

    • I agree that we do need to know our history, “the good, the bad and the ugly.” It takes integrity to admit mistakes and shoulder (rather than shift) blame, and to hopefully learn from experience. For nations, for groups, and for individuals.
      We all form their own narratives, or choose which ones to follow. Sometimes self serving, sometimes honest (sometimes not).

      As an example, on the individual level of history, I’m struggling to write a post about finding revolutionary war ancestors…who were also listed as owning slaves on a census, in a will, and in a war pension application. I thought a post might be a way to formulate a narrative for my son, so he will eventually know a bit about these ancestors (and a bit of the history this nation), flaws and all.

      • Daphne, thanks. I have also found the issue of slave ownership in my and my wife’s ancestry. It breaks my heart to read some of the will’s I have found. I wrote a post about ancestry back in December I think. Please do write about it. BTG

  5. Note to Readers: I have written about this before, but the series on “The Roosevelts” which showed the significant contribution of Teddy, Franklin and Eleanor on the US and world. Yet, it also showed their imperfections as well. Not every decision turned out well nor was popular and each person had personal challenges. FDR valued his wife’s input and perspective, but loved other women. Teddy had an ego that got in his way. Eleanor had to learn to be a politician and became a very good one especially as she help launch the United Nations (a Republican adversary saw her in action at the formation of the UN and said I take back every bad thing I ever said about her). Yet, seeing them as whole people, made what they accomplished so much more impactful.

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