A site of satirical musings, commentary and/or rhetorical criticism of the world at large.

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Location: Southeastern, Pennsylvania, United States

Sunday, September 15, 2019

Sunday Morning Post (V.1, #34) - Outside the Comfort Zone of American History

It would be an understatement me to declare that history has always been my favorite subject: I believe history in ingrained in my DNA.  It’s a blessing and a curse.  A blessing because I know that history’s primary objective is to allow all of us to learn from our past mistakes and triumphs.  A record of what worked and what didn’t work.  It can be a curse when I’m able to see from current events that we’re on the verge of making the same mistakes again.

Such is the folly of the human race.

The problem is not American history itself, but rather that — in my lifetime — it has been taught with ulterior motives.  Yes, we have learned the timeline of events and many of us know them by rote.  1776 America declares its independence with the publication of the Declaration of Independence…1789 the US Constitution is written and adopted…George Washington was elected the first President of the new republic…1865 the American Civil War ends and President Abraham Lincoln is assassinated…and so on, and so on, and so on. 

Yes, we learned the important events, but it always had the underlying theme of making America look great no matter what we did.  And what did we do?  Well it includes slavery to sustain the antebellum culture of the American South and later on a genocide of the Native American culture, among other sins.  Oh well! These problems were identified, debated, dealt with and resolved within a few paragraphs in our elementary and high school history textbooks.  

There was a problem, we solved it. And everyone lived happily ever after in our great (read capitalist, non-Communist) American society.  The end!

One problem: many Americans are still waiting for the “happily ever after” part to happen.

Unbeknownst to us we weren’t getting the full story.  We weren’t usually told about the impacts and contributions of other groups to our story.  Women?  Okay, they gradually came around to the notion of advocating and fighting for a bigger place at the table of American history.  Immigrants?  Okay, many of them were Caucasian and many of them also helped build the country up to a pedestal of greatness.  Blacks after slavery?  The gay community?  Well, um, gee they don’t even rate a mention in most history books.  It’s as if the publishers of the textbooks simply said Harumph to any group that wasn’t white and male.

The good news: this method of teaching American history is changing.  I haven’t been able to see the change in history textbooks, but the change is happening at the sites where the history happened. The Washington Post (acting progressive again) has published a story describing how tour guides at nation park sites like Monticello are incorporating more stories about the “enslaved people” who worked the plantations. The article focuses on the response these sites are getting from the visitors. 

I would very much like to report that the incorporation of these stories is being greeted enthusiastically with overwhelming positive comments.  I would like to report that, but it wouldn’t be true.

The sites have received negative comments from people who are not comfortable hearing about these inconvenient truths of our heritage.  They seem to take the idea that our Founding Fathers, like Thomas Jefferson, were not perfect.   Yes, Jefferson was a major force of American independence, but he was still an imperfect human being.

There! I said it! 

We should agree that those of us living today have the luxury of passing judgment on those who came before us.  Whether it’s right or wrong to condemn or condone our ancestors is missing the larger point.  Passing judgement is human nature in action just as much as learning right from wrong about how we treat each other going forward.  Encountering a true reckoning of our past is just one small step towards the admirable goal of achieving justice and peace for all.

As Theodore Roosevelt might have said, Bully!

Thank you for reading.  Just remain calm and keep telling yourself, “It’s just history”.)


Blogger Bob said...

That last paragraph is everything.

September 15, 2019 at 3:19 PM  
Blogger Dave R said...

American Culture evolves. History and reckoning are dependent upon the direction of that evolution. Our strength is in dominant forces, like dark skin, rather than in popular machinations, like white skin, which will fade and be forgotten. Desperation rankles the white Nationalists as more and more they realize disappear them into a failed history lesson.

September 15, 2019 at 3:48 PM  
Blogger Ur-spo said...

I too love history
I heard an interview with Kenneth Burns today who said history doesn't repeat itself so much as it rhymes a lot.

September 15, 2019 at 8:51 PM  
Blogger Raybeard said...

Your 'average' American is no more ignorant about American history than the 'average' Brit knows about his/her own, i.e. with appalling deficiency. Ask a selection of my compatriots who was the first British Prime Minister and I can guarantee that the most popular answer will be "Mrs Thatcher!". It's thus that we on this side have arrived at the mega-folly that is Brexit - most Brits thinking that once more our country can independently 'Rule the Waves' if not the entire world! - and, almost as bad, that even now the whole world actually RESPECTS us, or at least SHOULD! Sheesh! I'm sure that this very same attitude prevails with the American far-right. As well as what Dave R. above says, history itself EVOLVES, both ongoing as it progresses and retrospectively in assessment and evaluation.

September 15, 2019 at 11:50 PM  
Blogger todd gunther said...

Thank you, Bob. I don't think I did anything special than summarizing my ideas.

Yes, Dave R., that seems to be the true history lesson at the moment.

I think that quote was also attributed to Twain at some point. no matter, it's still thought provoking.

True, Raybeard. The far right wants to return to the Mad Men days when America became great by default, and that only happened because the rest of the world was still in shambles from WWII.

September 17, 2019 at 6:38 PM  
Blogger Raybeard said...

As you mention WWII, RTG, it bemuses and astonishes me how many Brits get incensed at the thought that Britain would probably not have won the war had it not been for American intervention and help, and with so many American deaths too - and not only for that particular war but for BOTH World Wars. Some people only know a 'history' which never was, but rather what they want it to have been!

September 18, 2019 at 9:40 AM  
Blogger todd gunther said...

Good point, Raybeard. If only we could just agree that we were all fighting a common foe, did our job, and move on.

September 22, 2019 at 8:51 AM  

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