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Offended yet? You should be. But, I’ll bet you didn’t know that every Confederate State passed “20 nigger laws” intended to exempt men from military service when they oversaw 20 or more slaves. I’ll also bet that you never learned that no less than 1/3 of the South’s military was stationed in areas with large slave populations, just to prevent slave uprisings. (pg. 194)
LIES MY TEACHER TOLD ME, by James W. Loewen (Touchstone Publishing, Simon and Schuster) Oct. 2007, is a newly published, and totally revised reworking of his 1995 blockbuster. Loewen analyzes history books, in particular those that are forced into the hands of America’s high school students. What he finds, again, is almost criminal in scope. As our children’s history books grow in size, they diminish in quality and honesty. They, simply put, are propaganda.
What he has done with wit, insight, and devastating analysis, is to show why today’s Americans are functionally illiterate, ill-informed, and easily confused by the likes of George Bush, when he claims the reason for the 9/11 attacks was because “They hate us for our freedoms.”
Loewen’s superb book starts off with a troubling subject – America’s illogical need to create blemish-free heros in the face of contrary facts. He starts off with two heros that we think we know, except for all that pesky reality-based stuff: Helen Keller and Woodrow Wilson. Despite a touching celluloid tale, Keller was much more important and far more insightful than modern America gives her credit for. Why do we ignore her? Because she was not only a progressive, she was an active, published, loud, brash and proud socialist. If she lived today, she would be a featured writer on these front pages, if only because her ideas on sexism, racism, inequality and fairness would strike a chord with each and every one of us.
At the other end of the scale sits Woodrow Wilson, whose current cheerleaders support him as the most educated, most rational, and singularly humanitarian. Yet, Loewen points out that Wilson was not just a racist; he created policies and supported the growth of what ended up being the KKK. Instead of being a man of peace, Wilson was one of the earliest corporatist presidents. In order to protect commercial and corporate interests, the United States invaded Russia with thousands of troops in 1917-1918 to support the Whites against the Bolsheviks. And we wonder why the USSR never trusted us.
Loewen points out many other mistakes and cloudy rewrites of America’s history. To do it justice, this post would have to be almost as long as his extremely important book. Instead of me boring you second hand, I strongly suggest that you pick it up and read it. Then, pass it on. (forgive me if I repeat this advice)
Some of Loewen’s points need to be highlighted.
He points out many examples of racism, cultural bias, and class warfare. It probably is best exemplified by what we see in movie theaters, compared to the facts on the ground, or in the water, so to speak. Titanic, a celluloid favorite of millions, may entertain, but it hides some very dirty secrets.
“Among women, only 4 of 143 1st class passengers were lost, while 15 of the 93 second class passengers drowned, along with 81 of the 179 third class women and children. The crew ordered 3d class passengers to remain below deck, holding some at gunpoint.”
In what movie, history lesson, or textbook does that dirty little fact come out?
In addition to America’s creation of fake heros, Lowen also points out many dirty little facts that we simply aren’t taught. Here is one great list he offers, one that would explain a great deal about today’s current geo-political messes that involve us directly:
Our assistance to the shah’s faction in Iran, deposing Prime Minister Mossadegh and returning the shah to the throne in 1953.
Our role in bringing down the elected government of Guatemala in 1954.
Our rigging of the 1957 election in Lebanon, which entrenched Christians on top, and led to the Muslim revolt and civil war the next year.
Our involvement in the assassination of Patrice Lumumba of Zaire in 1961.
Our repeated steps to assassinate Fidel Castro of Cuba and bring down his government by terror and sabotage.
Our role in bringing down the elected government in Chile in 1973.
Not only did the USSR have good reason to fear another attack by the US; so does most of the Middle East. That sure puts our current occupation in a different light, eh?
On VietNam, the Gulf of Tomkin was the reason why Congress voted (almost unanimously) to support the war. (shades of Iraq, to be sure) President Lyndon Johnson reported to Congress that the USS Maddox came under repeated unprovoked attack by North VietNamese gun and torpedo ships.
Except it never happened.
Unprovoked? The USS Maddox was busy depositing secret invasion forces armed to the teeth, with orders to attack North VietNam facilities. And those torpedoes and attacks? As Johnson himself knew and admitted to an aide at that time:
Those dumb sailors were just shooting at flying fish.
In this edition, Loewen ventures into modern history, including Iraq 1 and Iraq 2. He points out, with painful accuracy, that the whitewashing of our history has already taken place. And given the lack of a truly independent and vibrant class of modern journalists, we may be fighting a losing battle with a deck stacked against us.
The last point that Loewen makes is probably the most important. Current affairs are not just going unreported, but misreported. (you can only shake your head when you read in a history book that Truman stopped the KOREAN war by dropping the A-bomb)
Loewen compared and contrasted two current history books, both written by famous US scholars and historians. On one hand, we have Daniel Boorstin and Brooks Mather Kelley, and on the other, professors of history Cayton, Perry, Reed and Winkler.
Loewen points out identical passages in both books. Not similar, IDENTICAL. He went so far as to contact and inquire of the authors how this could be. He comes to the conclusion (hardly comforting) that these sections were rewritten by the publisher (both books were edited and published by the same company) and that the authors – all of them – were innocent of plagiarism. (pg 315-319) In fact, when repeatedly questioned by Loewen, the surviving authors (Boorstin was already deceased) had no explanation, nor any recollection of actually writing the offending passages.
I leave you with the same test that Loewen gives his readers. Try to put the following important events in proper chronological order:
Serbs Croats and Bsonian muslims sign peace agreement to end civil war
Soviet Union dissolves
Bill CLinton is elected to first term as president
Geraldine Ferraro is first woman from major party to run for vice president
Iraq invades Kuwait
Sandra Day O’Connor named to Supreme Court
Ronald Reagan is reelected president
get this book. You will thank yourself for it, then be sure to pass it on.