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

The kids in Colorado know better than a narrow-minded school board

The story out of Jefferson County, Colorado * has gotten a lot of airplay and it should. Leonard Pitts of the Miami Herald, whose column is picked up in numerous papers, had an excellent editorial. In essence, the Jefferson County Colorado school board made the decision that a whitewashed version of US history should be taught which focuses more on the positive things that happened in our country, glossing over the many trial and tribulations. The story takes a positive twist when the students from six high schools walked out of the classroom in protest to place a spotlight on the school board’s narrow-mindedness. The school board recanted saying you misunderstood the new requirement, to which Pitts notes, they understood it all to well.

This reminds me of what the Chinese government has done. They have effectively expunged the occurrence of the Tiananmen Square protests in 1989 that led to the deaths of many Chinese. One of the greatest pictures of the 20th century is the one of the young protestor standing in front of a tank. Yet, in Chinese textbooks and their version of the Google searches, you will not find any reference to this June 4 incident. In fact, if you do a Chinese Google on June 4, this incident will not appear. So, an underground movement calls it “May 35th.” ** What is interesting to me is I heard a Hong Kong protestor reference Tiananmen Square on the news last night.

In Texas, the school board decided several years ago to rewrite textbooks to embellish the accomplishments of conservative thought leaders and diminish the amount of material on folks like Martin Luther King. In Louisiana, the classrooms were instructed by the State Legislature and Governor Bobby Jindal to teach creationism as a science and not to teach about climate change, the greatest threat facing our planet. A student sued the state for depriving him of an education and his petition was backed by well over 100 Nobel laureates in science. In South Carolina, the state requested the College Board to eliminate bias from Advanced Placement examinations. Since these moves, including the Colorado one are backed by Americans for Prosperity, one could say their intent is to put their bias in the books, not eliminate perceived bias.

I tie the Tiananmen story together with the others as they are similar in mission, although the repression is more severe in China. We must look at history, the good, the bad and the ugly, otherwise will be destined to repeat past mistakes. Our country’s history is glorious, but it is also paved with blood, sweat and tears. While we talk about how we came together in World War II using our powerful manufacturing engines to help our allied cause, we must remember that we were almost too late and had to be drawn into the war due to bad feelings about the number of Americans who died in WWI. If the Japanese had never bombed Pearl Harbor, we may have been too late.

While we remember positively our Constitution and Bill of Rights, as we should, we need to remember that an African-American slave had no rights and was deemed 3/5 a person for purpose of giving more power to the southern states. It took almost 90 years for the slaves to be emancipated and another 100 years for them to truly gain equal rights. We should never forget the Jim Crow era and how echoes of it still exist today. We should also remember how some ministers used the bible as a weapon to keep down African-Americans, while others used the same bible to say Jesus would not approve of such maltreatment.

We should also remember that women did not have the right to vote for well over 100 years after the signing of these two important documents. The fight for women’s suffrage was truly a long uphill battle, against men who felt their power slipping away. We should remember how hard President Theodore Roosevelt fought the Robber Barons who ran the country, to get more Americans a “Square Deal” and how hard his cousin FDR fought to get more economic opportunity to Americans whose rights mattered less.  We should  not forget the “Trail of Tears” where native Americans were marched from their homeland to a safe place in the Indian Territory created after our government took their land.

America is a great country, but it is far from perfect. No country can claim perfection. If you only study the parts of history you like and are not made to think about the uglier parts, then you will lose sight of the most important part of the equation. We the people rule. We the people can protest when governance is not proper. We the people need an outlet for our voice, especially when the cost is so high to get one with elected officials.

To me, the Koch sponsored Americans for Prosperity has a disingenuous name and there is a reason they support the whitewashing of history. It should be Rich Americans for Prosperity. These wealthy Americans have used the Tea Party as their puppet and want continued power to influence their dominance. They want to go back to the Robber Baron period, as their oligarchy builds even more power. They do not want people to know that it was people like them that were on the opposite sides of Teddy’s Square Deal, FDR’s New Deal, women’s suffrage, and African-American rights. I recognize I am generalizing, but it should be noted some of the toughest parts of our history were influenced or caused by an established power of wealthy Americans,

I applaud these kids as they are clearly telling the Jefferson County school board, do not hinder our education. And, they are doing it the way our forefathers wanted it – through civil disobedient protests. Well done, kids.

* Here is a link to an article on the protests: http://america.aljazeera.com/articles/2014/9/24/colorado-walkoutconservative.html

** A link to Wikipedia which defines the event is as follows: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tiananmen_Square_protests_of_1989