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.
I agree with your opinion and that quote of Golda Meir says it all. The past happened and we shouldn’t erase it to fit our present.
I totally agree with you and that quote too. If we put make-up on the past we will risk repeating the bad of it even more…
I find an unvarnished history comforting. What we see in people from Moses to King David to George Washington to Abraham Lincoln to Eleanor Roosevelt–a list that most would agree holds some of the most influential people ever–is a Who’s Who of integrity, great decision making, and wisdom. . .until we look more closely. THEN we see phobias, crankiness, unhappiness, indecision, depression, anxiety all there in the stories of these great human beings. HUMAN BEINGS being the key thing. If we only look at their great accomplishments, then the rest of us are doomed to mediocrity and failure. If we see their flaws–their own failures–their missteps and indiscretions and flat out bad decisions, then we see that we have hope. We can also pick up the pieces or pick up ourselves and walked red-faced and humbles but stronger and wiser into the next decision that must be made. Don’t sanitize it. Give it to me real so that I have hope to leave a legacy too.
Well put, dear lady.
I think we need the real truth. I always remember George Orwell,s 1984 and how they used to manipulate history to suit their purposes. I don’t see how that kind of thing could ever really be good for people. For the rulers, yeah sure, but for the rest of us? No way!
In a recent editorial in the Houston Chronicle concerning the removal of a statue of Jefferson Davis in Austin, the writer concluded that we, the people, have a right to decide which parts of our history we wish to preserve and teach to future generations. That’s about as close to Orwellian thought as we can get. As an aside, I find it somewhat hypocritical that those same editors who continue to rail against the institution of slavery in the USA, which ended 151 years ago, have nothing to say about the slavery being practiced today by many of our Asian, Middle Eastern and African trading partners. http://www.bbc.com/news/world-30080578
Interesting article. Thanks for giving me something nice to read tonight. It’s been a kind of crappy day and it’s nice to just … do something different.
I think your commenter brings up a good point. We can’t provide heroes and villains to the next generation if we’re constantly mucking everything up with gritty (unbiased being impossible) history. I also agree with you that we should teach gritty history.
I get around the apparent contradiction by suggesting that the entire idea of heroes and villains is a distorted and pernicious way to look at life. The idea that Hitler and Stalin were evil, for example, provides clarity to the public but it doesn’t explain why hundreds of millions of people followed those dudes. In turn, the public is completely unprepared for their own version of Stalin or Hitler because they think “evil” comes in the form of cackling villains and not in the form of normal people expressing the desires of other ordinary people.
I agree with your assessment. After all, evil people don’t go around thinking or saying, “hey, I am one evil guy.” And on that, evil itself is entirely subjective. If I strap a bomb onto my back, walk into a cathedral and detonate it I am evil to the folks in the culture that built the cathedral, To the however many virgins waiting for me in the great perhaps, I am a hero. Thanks for your comment.
Too much history has already been changed because the facts are too uncomfortable for some people to look at. “Heroes” from revisionist history then turn out to be anti-heroes when we learn the truth! Where is the comfort in discovering that we’re being lied to? Looking up to people who shouldn’t be looked up to… Isn’t that all part of a propaganda machine? Well, yes, when we look back on nations who used propaganda to extremes! Revisionist history… That allows the people perpetrating the cover ups to pull the public’s strings, and makes for the public more compliant, … At least on the surface!
There are so many lies being told to us by so many people that were the truth known, many in the public wouldn’t wish to know it! Why? Because it feels easier…
Thanks for your comment. Revised history to create more compliant citizens, yes. But there is also that we as a whole want the L. Frank Baum who wrote “The Wizard of Oz” not the one who called for the mass extermination of the Native American population. We want the Abraham Lincoln whose noble ambition was to free the slaves, not the one who advocated for the removal of all black folks from America. Restrooms are “sanitized for your protection,” history is often sanitized to protect our sensibilities. Thus we are lied to and are complicit in continuing to lie to ourselves.