I’ve written several times on the subject of revisionist history. My feelings are known to any that have followed this blog. Whenever the subject comes up I find most people, while perhaps arguing against my view of the facts concerning a given historical individual, will completely agree that history should be presented as closely as possible to the way that the events actually unfolded. Until last week, that is. As a parting shot, a discussion closer, a co-worker said, “I don’t want to teach my kids true history because it will strip away too many of our national heroes. They need those people to look up to.”
Okay, a totally new approach but is it really justification? The subject of revisionist history most recently gained national attention with the attempted removal of all things pertaining to the War Between the States or the idea that the Confederacy actually existed and may have had some good points to support its cause.
The overall subject goes much deeper than that, back to the dawn of recorded history, and touches all areas of human endeavor, religious, political and social. The question raised by my co-worker actually is do we want our national, or global, heroes to be fictional characters or should they be presented as they were, warts and all?
And if they are presented factually, showing them to be human beings subject to very human foibles, does that take away from the good that they achieved? Personally, I think not.
Revisionist history is not only wrong, it is an intellectually lazy approach to honoring the memory of those who have helped to develop our societies and cultures. Would it not be better to offer events as they occurred but take the extra step of explaining their context, teaching about the times in which given historical figures lived and why they acted as they did?
History should not be a sort of Cliff Notes exercise, sanitized to fit the times in which we live. In the words of Golda Meir: One cannot and must not try to erase the past merely because it does not fit the present.
That’s my opinion and I welcome yours.