Revisionist history

Check out this article from The New York Times.  It has nothing to do with Tolkien; I just need to vent for a bit.

A lot of people talking about the Texas School Board vote to change standards for history classes talks about conservatives and liberals campaigning for or against the changes.  Conservatives in this country are fond of complaining about liberal bias in education, and they claim they are merely correcting it.  If they can find an example of “liberals” warping historical fact to fit their political goals, then by all means correct it.  Unfortunately that is what’s happening right now, except its conservatives doing the warping.  I want to make clear before proceeding that this isn’t a criticism of conservatives but a criticism of historical revisionists, regardless of their ideologies.

Looking at some of the changes mentioned in the article:

questioning the Founding Fathers’ commitment to a purely secular government

As a political science student and a lover of history this offends me on many levels.  The First Amendment declares that there will be no official religion of the United States.  This is a pretty big element of secularism right there, but the idea has been expanded since then.  This isn’t a case of “activist judges” doing so years after the fact, the Founders themselves used the broader interpretation of the amendment to separate church and state (more on that later).  This reveals the hypocrisy of those who obsess over the Founders’ intentions and then jump ship when its something they don’t like.

believe the Founding Fathers were guided by Christian principles

Perhaps some of them were, but many of the Founders were deists, not Christians, and (almost) all were secularists.  Their main inspiration was the Enlightenment, particularly in France.  It’s worth noting that the Constitution does not mention God at all, and the Declaration of Independence refers only to “Nature’s God” (i.e., deism).  This rather flies in the face of the “the Founders wanted a Christian nation” position.

the votes in Congress on civil rights legislation, which Republicans supported.

This is technically correct, but it is almost certain to be misinterpreted.  This statement is similar to the ongoing “we’re the party of Lincoln” line from the Republicans.  The two main parties in the U.S. have had an almost 180-degree shift in ideological orientation.  The Democrats were, at the time of the Civil War and through the 1960s, mostly social conservative.  In the mid-20th-century, however, certain elements of the Democratic party endorsed such radical ideas as integrating the armed forces and public school systems.  This led the conservative Southern Democrats (Dixiecrats) to largely abandon the Democratic party and join the Republicans.  Despite what party labels they had, there were mostly liberals supporting Civil Rights and mostly conservatives opposing it.

He also won approval for an amendment stressing that Germans and Italians as well as Japanese were interned in the United States during World War II, to counter the idea that the internment of Japanese was motivated by racism.

This ignores the obvious counter that white Americans were simply racist against Italians and Germans as well.  Pretty much all immigrants were mistreated for most of American history.

cut Thomas Jefferson from a list of figures whose writings inspired revolutions in the late 18th century and 19th century, replacing him with St. Thomas Aquinas, John Calvin and William Blackstone.

For those who don’t know, Thomas Jefferson wrote the American Declaration of Independence, making him rather indisputably and inspiration for Revolutions.  He is, however, disliked by conservatives for coining the term “separation of church and state”, so they have removed him.  The notion of a Christian origin was already considered above, but it’s worth noting again that the founding documents of the U.S. do not mention Christianity, nor is the system of government that was established particularly Christian, nor were the Founders all Christian.

Finally, and this is a longstanding pet peeve of mine, consider the following tidbit from this column:

so that schoolchildren could see that the Civil War was about states’ rights, not about slaverU

This is a common historical myth, largely among people in the American South.  I can understand why people don’t want to think of their ancestors as fighting a war to defend the disgusting practice of slavery, but sadly, that’s why it was fought.  Anyone who knows of them can read the Declarations of Causes of Secession and see for themselves how big of a role slavery played in the minds of the Confederates themselves.  It would be overly simplistic to say that slavery was the only cause, and states’ rights played a role, but had the rest of the Union not been increasingly anti-slavery the South would not have seceded.

Again, please note that I don’t mean to criticize conservatives in general here, merely those who try to rewrite history to fit their political viewpoints, whatever those might be.  If the story was about Massachusetts trying to remove Ronald Reagan from history textbooks I would be just as offended.  I feel better after getting to rant for a while, though. 😛


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