Historians, like journalists, are in the business of manipulating facts. Some use facts to tell truths, however unpleasant. But many more omit, highlight and at times distort them in ways that sustain national myths and buttress dominant narratives. The failure by most of the United States' popular historians and the press to tell stories of oppression and the struggles against it, especially by women, people of color, the working class and the poor, has contributed to the sickening triumphalism and chauvinism that are poisoning our society. The historian James W.
All history is mystory if it leaves out the causes of or for wars of aggression, slavery, misogyny, demonization, inter-ethnic hatreds; unnecessary fears, hopelessness, helplessness, misinformation, lack of education, etc.
And all or nearly all religions; its priestly classes, and most believers approve of that or even command it.
What all gods i know of hate and fear the most is the rise of a desire for political equality; without which we will not ever develop the democracy, justice, hope, interdependence, etc.
And it is these factors/actors of enormous power that CH does not include in his analyses; thus, does not adduce and elucidation.
And it is not money that is the FIRST CAUSE [it is a very useful tool; made by tool-makers] for all ills that befall us; the First Cause is our THINKING or the thinking of the priestly classes, their ‘holy’ books, and religious people.
It will be the critical approach to history that defines Trump and his self-obsessed, Nazi inspired, thievery type of, what he and the Republican party call, governance.
Historians who give praise to this would be king, will not be revered by their colleagues nor by those who might read the lies they write about this hateful monster in human flesh.
“History, n.: An account, mostly false, of events, mostly unimportant, which are brought about by rulers, mostly knaves, and soldiers, mostly fools.”
I haven’t paid much attention to Hedges since his petulant attitude toward Bernie in the primaries. This is an excellent piece on the writing of history, especiallly his many quotes from a “true,” historian, and one I’ve admired for many years, Eric Foner.
I’m reading now “Unspeakable”, the first in a series of new books, and this first book is front and center Chris Hedges.
It is wonderful - a must read, and it addresses his dislike of Bernie Sanders, which I share, yet gives Bernie credit where credit is due, which I also accept.
Revisionist history is a theme I am always exploring - and, as a person of science, this is also the way of science - always searching for the truth - always willing to review one’s ideas in the light of new evidence.
Perspective comes - sometimes in a blaze of light, sometimes incrementally.
Right now Chris Hedges is leading the way - he is our Apache ‘Dreamer’ - a mystic who has perspective - who holds within himself, both from personal experience and hard study - the history of the tribe.
Real life, and the history which follows it, is messy, apparently by natural design, the natural world appears to exist and evolve on “The Borders of Order”.
Hedges is correct - our ahistorical stance distorts ruling politics into a dark system indeed.
Bring history into every political debate. It allows one to dispense with the endless pretentious bs that passes as worthwhile social commentary while repeating the same nonsense that has been going on for decades. Don’t worry - you don’t need memorize every date in detail - what we need is the clear meaning that arises from our dark history. Use that meaning to steer clear of the ‘centrist’ lies which still dominate discussions as ‘solutions’ and ‘progress’.
Excellent essay! Truth and truthful history requires an element of humility. That is something sorely missing among elite leaders and among much of the American population. We need to get off our high horses and walk a mile in the shoes of someone different than us - to understand.
We really do need to challenge the histories that have been given to us. Anyone who studies the JFK assassination knows that Kennedy was shot at from multiple directions, was hit probably five or six times and the shot that killed him came from the front. It is very doubtful that Oswald had any participation in the assassination. The shots that killed RFK came from behind and from below and close up - none of which would put Sirhan Sirhan as the killer of RFK. William Pepper has documented the involvement of the FBI, J Edgar Hoover, the military, the Memphis police and the Dixie Mafia in the death of MLK yet we still have a building named after Hoover in DC. While we are getting a lot of information on Vietnam - has Ken Burns given us the full story of the Gulf of Tonkin incident or the movement of 1 million Tonkinese to South Vietman thereby destabilizing it? It is disturbing that Burn’s sponsors include Bank of America and one of the Koch brothers.
Three cheers for bringing down the confederate monuments. They can put some of them in a museum but they shouldn’t be on public display as a symbol of honor. These confederate battle flags should be brought down as well. The klan is a terrorist organization and should be treated as such. Before real change - comes the revolution of the mind and that is our responsibility - each of us - to free ourselves from the mental conditioning and false stories told to us. We are much like a dysfunctional family where the denials are starting to fall apart and some members are uttering words of truth. It is a time of great promise if we can break down these walls of lies that have enslaved our minds and trapped us for so long.
I don’t know - I think MAD magazine has done a very good job of portraying Trump in all his inglorious insanity. Can you really write much real history about Trump that does not appear to be part of a Theatre of the Absurd?
“The long historical memory is the most radical idea.”
Thank you again Chris, for elucidating and articulating the simple truths which controvert the false myths and narratives that our culture has inculcated us with since birth, and all who preceded us in this nation from its beginning. You never fail to inspire us to question. learn, and, hopefully, evolve into better citizens, thinkers, and human beings! You efforts are both needed and greatly appreciated.
I noticed at the Yankee Game this past Wednesday afternoon that there were people sitting through the anthem and they were not all black. I’ve been thinking of doing it and Boss Trump has just convinced me so I will now sit out the racist national anthem. From its third stanza:
“No refuge could save the hireling and slave
From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave:”
The statues never meant that much to me as there are none to those I respect and admire the most in history. Pigeons best express my feeling about most of them by pooping all over them which also expresses my feeling about the U.S. and its empire.
I may be a subject in the U.S. Empire but I consider myself a citizen of the world and give allegiance to the only race, the human race.
Through practicing frugality, critically reading a lot, and by working for the non-profit NYC Health and Hospitals I was able to cast off most of the chains of mind and body that bound people in “exceptional” America.
As a socialist I don’t believe that any real change can come under capitalism. Protest, however, can serve the important purpose of educating people, perhaps the only way many people can get any real, critical, education.
Only dreams stay the nightmares
History is written by the so-called “winners”; history is never recalled, nor written, with a balanced open-minded impartiality nor with a true desire to account for all that occurred, good or bad,righteous nor deplorable. It is written as a means, often, to assuage the ego-driven desire to place one’s name, or nationality-or ones race- in a favorable light. History is, and probably always will be, truly a mystery. And Americans, in many ways, have a short memory. Especially when it’s convenient to “forget”
Distorted history resides in the textbooks used in parochial schools wherein the missionaries are lauded and their victims vilified: Native Americans and Hispanic people were mainly targeted. My parents put me in Catholic school until I rebelled in the fifth grade and was expelled after being “insubordinate” with a nun who was beating one of my classmates: I grabbed her stick and yanked it out of her hands and yelled at her to stop. She grabbed my hair and drug me down the hall to Mother Superior who expelled me on the spot. I still recall the bastardized history we were force fed…canonizing the priests. It was not until I took two classes at University in Native American History and read the incredible Francis Jennings book, The Invasion of America: Indians, Colonialism, and the Cant of Conquest that I came to know the full history of our nation’s cruelty. It took over ten years for Jennings to get it published because of its unassailable truth based in facts, oral histories, diaries, archives, and extensive research. A testament to Hedges and Foner’s statements about the perpetuation of myths.
How can someone say that “Racism” doesn’t relate to what’s going on today. It is mostly about that. Do we want black America circling their wagons once again and give us another dose of the “Black Power” movement? It is possible for someone like the Donald to start up a race war. A war we can’t seem to settle at the peace table. G
Your work is important - worthy and inspiring to me; I loved you the minute we (my now deceased dear husband - also a Presbyterian minister in NJ/NY area)
finished our introduction to you through our reading together of WAR…GIVES US MEANING. You seem to certainly bolster my hope and urge me on - at age 86. I am eternally grateful. I announce to all that I LOVE YOU! Keep on keeping on. Blessings be upon you in all ways. Love/struggle - as Lynne Stewart liked to remind her friends. Elizabeth Sarfaty, Malone, NY
The history generally presented in the US is the result of a well documented conspiracy. The Rockefeller, Carnegie and Guggenheim Foundations sponsored the academic careers of historians with amenable characteristics to paint a history that was favorable to the .01%. Among the historians that resisted them was Charles Beard, the author of “An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution of the United States” 1913.
A summary of that conspiracy and others is in this entertaining and informative video.
one civil war monument that i wish had been left standing in baltimore was the “confederate women’s” monument. it was very beautiful, artistically, but more important, was an antiwar statement. it showed 2 women bending over a dying /dead soldier. it in no way glorified the confederacy, but was a powerful statement regarding the tragic horror of war. we need MORE of these, not less. that it depicted a confederate soldier was irrelevant : it could have been anyone fallen in combat. i was sorry that the removal of statues did not take their meaning into consideration and be more selective.
This is a great article at introducing that history is hard for anyone to understand - indeed it seems no one does.
I’ve long felt that people are more similar over time than is popularly understood - that it’s factors we don’t really understand that account for a lot of what seem like larger differences.
But before we talk about Americans today really understanding another continent in history, let’s ask how well the 5% of people in America understand others in their own country.
Do the strong trump supporters and black lives matter activists understand each other today? Do the apolitical young person who cares about hip hop and sports and the Native American living on a reservation understand each other?
Do we even understand our own critical modern history - many go see WWII movies like Dunkirk that tell a heroic story of the war. How many Americans have much idea of the competition for resources and power that played such a large role in the leadup to WWII - the ‘interests’ of the United States versus Japan, where FDR had to maneuver around a public against war to try to lead the country to defeat the militaristic Japan, provoking them?
How many Americans can really explain why our last larger war - Vietnam happened and what happened (even if they watch the current PBS series)? How many understand the issues from the history of colonialism to the ‘interests’ of the powers involved to the role of the US security establishment (the CIA, who ran the war until 1965, and what happened with them and the US military industry) - how many people who SERVED in the war have much idea about that?
No, we miss a lot in ‘history’. Our own society is based on so many ideologies and myths and lies - a nation where half the people thought they were likely to catch ebola, where so many think of radical Islamic terrorism as a much larger threat to them than it is, where over half the Republicans thing trump is uniting the country while 93% of Democrats say he is dividing it?
Historians are not immune to these issues - and really, in ways are more susceptible to them. They can fill in some blanks more than others about some history - but can become more rigid in a narrow view as a result.
There have been various quotes about what history is in the article and comments that are useful.
I’d say another quote of my own is that history is most often used by interested parties to sell their own policies. That the largest role it plays in actual use is to persuade people to agree to some policy.
An especially simple, common, and effective case of that is how losses are used to demand continued support for a policy - ‘if you say we end this war now, you’re spitting in the face of those who have sacrificed to win it’.
But of course it’s much more than that. Perhaps the point is made especially clear by seeing how history is used for this purpose in cases it’s false - the way the Nazis used the false book alleging plots against by the Jews to increase their own power - or on the other side, the way the British government created false propaganda about the Germans celebrating the sinking of the Lusitania to build public support for the war they wanted.
I’m very glad to see Hedges make points that reminded me as well of the diversity and divergence of these views and that make up history.
How many Americans today understand, say, the war in Yemen - who know anything about the people and interests and motives, as Sudan was just removed from trump’s travel restriction list in order to placate the Saudis, who asked for that as a reward for Sudan’s help in the Yemen war they are fighting, and trump’s motives for doing what the Saudis want, or the Saudi crown prince’s motive for the war, or why they US media covers the issue so little? Meantime, someone will keep score and record how many were estimated killed and who won and call that the history.
A discussion of just how little history is understood and how it’s misused are very helpful to any society to not just get manipulated by its misuse.
But there’s not much chance of that when half the country doesn’t quite appreciate the issues why their representatives are trying to take healthcare from tens of millions of Americans.
There are old saying about the danger of not learning from history. I’d say the current occupant of the White House and the state of our political system that resulted in that suggest the public is not learning a lot of such lessons.
On the other hand - on a more optimistic note - I was pleased to see NASCAR driver Dale Earnhardt, Jr. quote JFK on peaceful revolution in his defense on twitter of NFL players’ protests responding to trump.
I’ve long said it seems to me most of human history seems to be nearly everyone serving a few in power, mostly in a military or sustaining society.
We have such a revolution and freedom today compared to that history - and we’re instead having battles over which news is ‘fake’ and allowing trump to rise to power in part by lying about where the president was born.
Add in that many people who ARE ‘racist’, for example, don’t understand that they are - and having current events much less historical ones understood that include things like racism is not going to happen soon.
How many of us can really appreciate our own effects of such issues?
How much history is needed to discuss how little Americans understand or care about, say, the situation between Israel and Palestinians today, what options to improve it would be better, and how to make them happen?
How much do the Israelis or Palestinians themselves understand those questions and each other? And how much are they framing the current issues using historical issues, from the Holocaust to the history of the Palestinian people?
We can look at the history of, say, the Nixon administration, passing laws from treaties on arms control and germ warfare to creating the EPA and call that history. Yet one private quote of Nixon adds more information on how such things actually happen - when Nixon told a confidante that his administration was getting credit for the wrong things like the policies just mentioned, he didn’t care at all about them, all that mattered was the war in Vietnam. An important part of history isn’t the country realizing the importance of those policies - but the history of a president who looked for policies that would buy him political power for his own interests, and how those policies became ones used for that purpose.
One last comment - another way history is misused is, for example, our rather slavish but distorted putting our founding fathers on a pedestal. Whether done by those making a mistake or by propagandists, reverence for them carries far too much weight in our current discussions, to the point that one of the right’s most powerful arguments for its bad policies is to claim that they are following the ‘original intent’ of the founding father, changing circumstances being irrelevant.
Ironically, this is the opposite of what the founding fathers wanted - they wanted the country to adapt. But our constitution is being re-written by five warriors against democracy, using ‘original intent’ as their selling message.
Because given the messiness of political issues, people want something more idealistic and less about current interests to use - but in so doing what they get is the misuse of history to sell corruption.
This isn’t easily solved. Frankly, it won’t be solved any time soon. But we can try to improve it some. Unfortunately, while Chris points out the problem, things are largely headed in a worse direction, with media doing worse and worse on it.
Public opinion is largely ‘weaponized’, not based on what’s correct or helpful to the people, but what helps powerful interests. It’s funny how a lot of the points I’m making are somewhat relevant to past books from Chris, from his writing on the sociology of society and war in the book with my favorite title, “War is a Force That Gives Us Meaning”, to more recently discussing the public’s poor situation on political discourse, “Empire of Illusion”.
While it’s ‘our side’ that supports democracy, democracy is made its own enemy when a lot more citizens are misled by the corruptly funding disinformation campaigns than read books like Chris’s. But that war is another topic.
Thanks for the good article, Chris.