“History is bunk,” said Henry Ford. This was the man who wrote “The International Jew,” which asserted that Jews were out to subvert and debase western civilization. Of course he would say history is bunk because no reputable historian would support his bigoted theory.
What passes for history in our schools is boring and unenlightening, which is why most students say they do not like history classes. For them history is a chronology of kings and wars and only those of a few nations. The facts of history are carefully selected so as not to offend the Texas Board of Education and its like.
On “Jeopardy!” the two subjects that contestants are worst on are history and geography. Americans are singularly ignorant about what goes on in the world. Much of what passes for history is really indoctrination. Questions are not encouraged and neither is thinking in those classes. If you haven’t already, you should read “Lie My Teacher Told Me” by James W. Loewen. Howard Zinn’s “People’s History of The United States.”
A recent popular distortion of history comes from gun advocates. The NRA and its supporters maintain that Americans should possess military arms in case our government turns totalitarian. They cite Hitler’s Germany, the USSR, China, and Cambodia as examples of people who could have overthrown tyrannies if they had enough guns in private hands. This ignores the violent, armed civil wars that preceded these regimes (except the Third Reich which came to power through political process). They spout the laughable idea that if the Jews of Germany had arms they could have prevented the Holocaust. This is an intentional distortion of history suited to a political purpose. It is an example of why it is vital for us to learn history.
Recently I watched Oliver Stone’s Showtime series “Untold History of The United States.” Nothing in that series, so far as I could tell, is untrue, but I do not think it represents the whole picture. Nonetheless almost all of what we see there is unknown to most people. During our lifetime our country has been guilty of some terrible things. These grow out of the idea of exceptionalism and the idea that the United States is a global power.
Exceptionalism is the belief that one’s nation is somehow above judgment no matter what it does. This is the “house on a hill” vision so basic to our vision of our nation turned into a nightmare. As Abraham Lncoln noted we should not be saying “God is on our side,” (which is the essence of exceptionalism), but we should be worrying about whether we are on God’s side.
The view that we are a global power is overextending our resources. We have a military presence in 160 countries. We never leave anywhere once we are there. We spend more on the military than the next 26 nations combined and that is just the Pentagon’s government. “Defense” budgets are found in the Departments of Energy, Homeland Security, Interior, and elsewhere. In the span of human history empires fail when they overreach. Decline and fall comes just as an empire reaches its greatest extent.
Oliver Stone needs to be taken with a grain of salt, but he has a lot of importance to teach us about who we are and what America has become. I recommend also his “Power of Nightmares,” which gives a parallel history of the Neo-Conservative movement and Muslim fundamentalism.
As usual my advice is to be skeptical, even of what I write.