promoting the unwanted, redheaded stepchild that is individual liberty

History as a weapon

In foreign policy, war and peace on February 5, 2010 at 12:18 am

Ive been in school for almost 20 years. Ive studied history for probably a fifth of that time. At the very least, I should have a firm grasp on my own countrys, if not the worlds, history. And yet Ive been told so little.

Not to worry, I can tell you about the World Wars and who the bad guys were. I can tell you about the fall of the Berlin Wall and how the Civil War was fought over slavery. I can tell you about Betsy Ross and the pilgrims. But what I can not tell you about is the omitted history — the history that makes a difference.

The years spent in the classroom sitting in painful plastic chairs never prepared me for the truth I would uncover outside its walls.

My lengthy American history books somehow omitted the chapters on American imperialism. I never learned about Americas occupation of Haiti or its invasion of the peaceful Philippines. Nor was I taught about the 1928 CIA overthrow of the democratic Iranian government. Likewise, my European history lessons failed to mention the fait of the Aborigines or King Leopolds holocaust in the Congo. 

But King Charlemagne, I can tell you about.

History is a weapon and for those who wield the power of the pen, the weapon is theirs. Until Americas institutions teach that which has been omitted, the only hope for I and others is self-education.
  1. One can find this “omitted” historical information if one looks for it. It really isn’t hidden. Too many are willing to simply accept what they are told in class as the entire story, as though one teacher with one textbook could ever have a grasp on all of history. The schools cannot teach all aspects of history, or that would be the only class there’d be time to hold. Students have to fill in the rest themselves. Example: You studied World War II at some point in your schoolwork, I’m certain. Yet were you ever taught about the Malmédy Massacre? If not, was that omission an effort to make the Nazis look better in American history textbooks? Or was it simply a matter of there being only so many days in a school year? In more modern history, what happened at Ruby Ridge? Was that taught in a current events class, or in a Modern History class? Anyone know what the actual final legal outcome of all that was? The information is out there. If it’s not taught, is that somehow proof of a cover up? How many millions did Mao kill? Stalin? We know Hitler was a mass murderer, as we’re taught that in class almost every year. Do they teach that as mass murdering leaders go he didn’t kill as many as Mao or Stalin? One could go on and on about what isn’t taught, and not just in American History classes.

    Now take your Philippine example. It isn’t enough to just consider that we invaded. One has to look deeper as to why. Why were we there? Why sail halfway around the world in 1899 to invade islands like that? Without going into detail that would make this a dissertation instead of a reply to a blog post, suffice it to say that the Philippines was a legitimate war target (Spanish-American War), that while we stayed there we did some mightily terrible things, but we then granted them independence, which is something that really doesn’t happen when a truly imperialist nation is involved. One wonders if the Spanish ever intended to grant independence to the Philippines.

    So yes, there are many things you weren’t told in history class. To automatically assume some nefarious conspiracy to hide the flaws in our past (which I’m not saying you are doing, by the way, although others do) is to buy deeply into anti-American propaganda. There’s no concerted effort to hide the mistakes we’ve made in the past. There is no Orwellian “We’ve always been at war with East Asia” thing going on. We’re not self-flagellating over the ugly aspects of our past, sure, but we’re not burying them either. If we were, you’d not have found what you already have. Once you learn what some of those “omitted” things were, you then need to dig even deeper to learn what actually happened, what led to it, and why we did what we did. The explanation won’t always excuse our actions, but learning the why still beats a knee-jerk “omigawd we’re imperialists!” reaction that comes from those who simply must find us to be imperialists in order to justify their political positions. In any historical situation, there is a point where one can find something that has happened and use it to bolster a political point, provided they stop digging for answers right then and there and declare the history “settled”. In short, when you think you have it figured out, dig deeper. There is always a why to the why to the why to the why, ad infinitum. And when you think you finally understand the why, read things by someone who disagrees with your conclusion. Even if they don’t sway you, you’ll have even a better understanding. The fact you’re even looking into American actions during the Spanish American War is more than a vast majority of your fellow students will do.

  2. “History is a lie commonly agreed upon.” – Nietzsche

  3. Jessica,

    “…the only hope for I and others is self-education.”

    I agree with you entirely.

    First, from age 4 (or so) to early 20’s (if you go to college) you are subjected to a lot of “canned” education at least as far as facts go. IDEALY the goal of education is to teach the student to think, write and communicate clearly. Logic, precise logic, is necessary. Intuition backed by logic is important. Reading great literature to learn to analyze feelings and emotions is important.

    All of that should never be intented to present ALL the information to then “head out” into the world know all needed to work, interact and contribute to the advancement of society in whatever field you choose. It can only lay a foundation of critical thinking and then instill the tools and work ethic to continue to learn over a lifetime.

    You left out the return of the Shah in Iran during the Cold War, or the overthrow of the government in the Congo during the same period. You have never had a class exploring Cuba before Castro probably to understand that revolution as well. Have you ever read and pondered information on “Just War” as part of your normal studies in high school or colleg

    Then stop and consider the foundation of a democracy where the “people” govern, ultimately. How can uneducated or simply “canned” educated people possibly govern. High School dropouts can vote but with what insight I would ask. The same can be said for many college and post graduate citizens as well. Many fall into the “I don’t give a s…” category, yet giving a s… and voting accordingly is a cornerstone of our way of government.

    No an easy issue to address much less reslove.


  4. Jessica, Aaron, & Anson – yes. Maybe, in addition to random periodic drug testing for teachers, welfare recipients, and politicians, we should include history textbook authors. Except that they would be *required* to take certain drugs (perhaps large doses of benzodiazepine) to ‘mellow out’ and relax their authoritarian tendencies. – Jim

  5. America began in 1620 based on individual freedom and the rule of law, which at that time was the Geneva Bible. It grew around individual interests, the family and even the closest community, as described by John C Calhoun cited in The Changing Face of Democrats on Amazon and We were never based, as Obama said, on community interests being more important than are individual interests, which reflects a Rousseau-Marx ideal which has never worked.

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