Friday, June 17, 2005

F'get About It

In my daily subway reading of the LA Times (which accompanies the equally intellectually stimulating hobby of psycho dodging), I ran across an op/ed by David Gelernter entitled, "We Are Our History -- Don't Forget It." Fair enough. I strongly urge anyone to read it since it is a perfect example of ignorance of history...or at least ignorance of what history ought to be.

Gelernter begins with a mockery of his son's female high school classmate who said, "If I'd lived at that time and been drafted...I would've gone to Canada." Based on his sons assessment he believes that the student did not understand that she could not be drafted as a female. Then he blames history teachers for this, namely, "Our schools teach history ideologically. They teach the message, not the truth. They teach history as if males and females have always played equalre roles. They are propaganda machines." As you read the rest, you will see how essentially Gelernter takes exception to any historical account that does not place America (and the West) on the high pedestal that it so rightfully deserves.

For all intents and purposes, he's full of shit. For the last three or four decades historiography has drifted from the rote teaching of facts of major events and people to the more obscure realm of shedding light on those not often talked about...that's right the common folk. History wants to tell the story...the full story. Facts that Gelernter prizes so much are meaningless without the proper context. History is now attempting to provide both. Upset that Sen. Durbing (D-Ill) compared Gitmo to the Soviet Gulags, Gelernter recites the numbers. Noticeably absent is the definition of hyperbole or simile.

Those numbers are meaningless, David. Absolutely meaningless if you don't know the story behind them. WHY were so many people subject to that prison system? WHO placed them there? Could be government without an effective judicial or legislative branch answering to the masses? (Remember, on paper, the USSR was one of the most democratic forms of governments. What could be better than a bunch of local councils making all the decisions?) If Gelernter had bothered to learn the story of the Gulags, then maybe he would have had a bit more suspicion of an administration that asks the judiciary to rubber stamp any and all detention of a citizen or not based on a declaration by a DoD official. (Solzhenitsyn got 8 years after a five minute "trial.") I know that Gelernter is glad that President Bush remembered Kennedy's promise to do whatever it takes to preserve liberty, but I also wonder if he's glad that President Bush, and many of his predecessors, forgot President Eisenhower's call to beware of the military industrial complex. Nah, that was just diatribe and hell...ideology.

The greater, and more dangerous ignorance that Gelernter, and those who share his view, should fear is the continued and unwavering adherence to the presumption that "We" are right and "They" are wrong. The end of his article is the perfect example of the recitation of the City Upon the Hill ideology that has defined American self-preception since colonial times. And THAT is what's led to some of our darkest times. Don't tell Gelernter that, the facts are on his side. He writes:

"There is an ongoign culture war between Americans who are ashamed of this nation's history and those who acknoledge with sorrow its many sins and are fiercly proud of it anyway. Proud of the 17th century settlers who threw their entire lives overboard and set sail for religious freedom in thier rickety little ships. [But not proud of the Indians who tried to defend their land and livelihoods. Similarly not proud of those who don't use rickety ships to get here, but walk over. No, those are criminals defying the rules of the religious freedom fighters. Oh, and certainly not proud of those who think religious freedom means free from a government dedicated to pleasing the Lord Almighty.] Proud of the new nation that taught democracy to the world. [By democracy he means rule by the people, as the Greek root implies. And by people he means white males. And by white males he means those over 21 until the 70s. Don't forget the old democracy only if your Grandpa had it.] Proud of its ferocious fight to free the slaves, save the Union and drag (lug, shove, sweat, bleed) America a few inches closer to its sublime ideals. [And then smoothly glide back away from those ideals by a Court dedicated to undoing the lesson of the Civil War in the name of States' rights. Calhoun anyone? Resist those same dragging, lugging, and shoving because naturally everyone being equal does not involve the government taking AFFIRMATIVE steps. Don't forget the confederate flag, David. How proud we are of the Union indeed.] Proud of its victories in two world wars and the Cold War, proud of the fight it is waging this very day for freedom in Iraq and the whole Middle East. [Proud of French women kissing American soldiers in the streets of Paris. Proud of Iraqi mothers pleading with American soldiers.]

If you are proud of this country and don't want its identity to vanish, you must teach U.S. history to yoru children. They won't learn it in school. This nation's memory will go blank unless you act."
I'm fortunate enough to not have children but what I will teach them is to question long-standing assumptions. I am, and my children ought to be, proud of this Nation's ideals and accomplishments. But they shouldn't stop there. They shouldn't assume that those outweigh the negatives. They shouldn't assume that the blemishes are all in the past...a different time, a different era...I mean does anyone really display bigotry towards immigrants these days?

If our nation's collective memory consists of looking at the numbers in Vietnam and concluding that it is not the same as Iraq, then by all means, let's erase it. Why not add to that memory a bit about an inflexible doctrine leading to the escalation of an unnecessary conflict? I'll let Gelernter figure out which conflict I speak of.

UPDATE: Shockingly, VC co-conspiritor Juan Non-Volokh couldn't agree more with Gelernter.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

History majors of the world, Unite!

6/20/2005 9:16 AM  

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