Saturday, August 20, 2005

Trashing History

One thing that really irritates me is people trying to make a point or advance an agenda by trashing history.

Some people who do this are intelligent and well-informed, like revisionist historians and journalists. They have the intelligence and resources needed to find and understand historical truth, yet they bend and twist it to conform to their personal ideas and attitudes. Most people who trash history, however, are simply ignorant. They'll repeat anything they hear as long as it fits the opinions they've already formed.

Thomas Sowell recently wrote a series of three columns on trashing history. Each of the three subjects is more complicated than his brief treatment. But he got it right. Take a few minutes to read all three:

Trashing Our History: Hiroshima

Trashing Our History: Troops in Iraq

Trashing Our History: Lincoln

Trashed history is at its most dangerous when it seems logical. Remember, this is the internet age. Next time you hear or read something that sounds a bit dubious, take a few minutes to google it. Amid all the garbage in your search returns will be enough objective sources to find out what's true.

In addition to the topics Sowell wrote about, try a few others. The internment of people of Japanese ancestry during World War II, for example. Or the Atlantic slave trade between 1502 and 1807, including details and numbers, for another example. Or maybe the firebombing of Dresden by U.S. and British air forces (hint: as terrible and deadly as Hiroshima or Nagasaki, but far less justified).

Historical facts are only a few mouse clicks away. Try it more often, and prepare to be amazed. The truth can do that.


Blogger Esther said...

Right on, Tom! I wish more people did this. Especially my parents! I can't tell you how many times they forward me emails and I have to send them back the Snopes entry debunking it. If something sounds pretty outlandish, chances are it is outlandish. Knowledge is power.

6:05 PM, August 20, 2005  
Blogger Violence Worker said...

Check out what they teach in the high schools these days. Presumably, in the interest of not offending those of Japanese heritage, kids are taught that the Japanese people were not at fault, it was the militarists that led them astray. On the other hand, they teach the students that all of Germany was at fault. In other words, German people were intrinsically bad because they were all Nazis and the Japanese were intinsically good, they just had bad leaders. Hence, the fire bombing of Dresden is largely ignored and the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki get the attention.

The biggest lie taught by history is that we study history to learn from our mistakes.

You have me hooked. I'll be back!


12:24 PM, August 21, 2005  
Blogger profmarcus said...

thanks for your comments on my "other" blog, the semi-literary one... yes, some amazing coincidences, all right... i am reasonably sure we were sitting in that very same sidewalk cafe facing the photo/poster display in belgrade...

as you know, i don't agree with very much of your worldview but i certainly respect not only your right to say it but also the concern you obviously have in bothering to say it in the first place... and, yes, i suspect we could have an extended and probably very stimulating few hours over coffee, beers, whatever should our paths cross at some point...

i head from here in buenos aires to sofia the first week in september, then back to bsas, and on back to the states later that month...

take care...

btw, as i'm sure you also know, history is written by the victors...

3:09 PM, August 21, 2005  
Blogger Esther said...

Well.... I see I'm not the only one getting spammed into next week. Ugh... Hang in there, Tom.

4:56 PM, August 21, 2005  
Blogger MaxedOutMama said...

What is with the spamming?

This is ridiculous.

Tom, you have a good point. Sometimes I almost start believing that half the people think that the "right" thing to do is ignore facts in the service of whatever cause they favor. I don't. I think it leads to ridiculous partisanship.

9:53 PM, August 21, 2005  
Blogger Dingo said...

good post Tom and very true. I think a lot of it is just plain ignorance of historical facts and then people trying to fill the gaps with their own beliefs. I once ran into a couple of people who were arguing that Alexander the Great did all of that conquering to spread Christianity.

2:19 PM, August 23, 2005  
Blogger Tom Carter said...

profmarcus, I look forward to coffee or a beer someday, worldviews notwithstanding!

"History is written by the victors" is the standard line used by some when they have no other response to an argument. Some early history, of course, is written by victors or, in some cases, victims. With a little time, though, serious professional historians sort things out. I'm sure you know that.

10:19 AM, August 24, 2005  

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