Past Imperfect


Sean Wilentz:

Cherry-Picking Our History

Oliver Stone and Peter Kuznick’s new book and accompanying ten-part televised documentary have a misleading title. Most if not all of the interpretations that they present in The Untold History of the United States—from the war in the Philippines to the one in Afghanistan—have appeared in revisionist histories of American foreign policy written over the last fifty years. Challenged by early reviewers, Stone and Kuznick have essentially conceded the point about their sources and claimed that what they call the “revisionist narrative” that informs their book has in truth become “the dominant narrative among university-based historians.”

The real problem, they say, is that this revisionism has yet to penetrate the public schools, the mainstream media, and “those parts of America that cling to the notion of American exceptionalism.” Their version of history may not be untold, but “it has been almost entirely ‘unlearned.’” And so what originally sounded like a startling account of a hidden history is in fact largely a recapitulation and popularization of a particular stream of academic work, in a book that would more properly be called The Unlearned History of the United States—if the scholarship and the authors’ reworking of it were thorough, factually accurate, and historically convincing.1

Stone and Kuznick devote themselves almost entirely to America’s role in world affairs since 1900 and particularly since 1939. Their basic aim is to describe the nation’s malevolent seizure of global supremacy during and after World War II, and its imperial exploits through the first term of Barack Obama’s presidency. It is largely a tale of great men—good and bad. By the 1920s, the democratic republic of Jefferson, Lincoln, Whitman, and the youthful William Jennings Bryan “had ceased to exist,” and been replaced by an America whose “unique mixture of idealism, militarism, avarice, and realpolitik propelled [it] toward becoming a world power.”

(Wilentz goes on to poke holes in the revised history of Henry Wallace. If you’re interested you should follow the link – it’s good stuff.)

When I was very young I learned an idealized version of U.S. history from school and Hollywood. Somewhere around the 70’s I began learning a very different version – one in which there were no heroes, just victims and villains. The latter version is the accepted Progressive version of U.S. history.

The truth, as usual, lies somewhere in the muddled middle.

The problem with history is it is made up of people – imperfect, flawed, humans. There are some shameful parts of our history. There are some parts we can take justifiable pride in. But all the parts, good and bad, are equally ours.

But all parts are not created equal. You can focus on the bad, and put the worst interpretation on the facts. Or you can focus on the good and put the best interpretation on the facts. Either way you’ll find yourself ignoring or dismissing relevant evidence.

We need to consider ALL the evidence. We need to weigh it, and use logic and reason to interpret it. Then we can reach some sort of conclusion about it. But what then?

We can conclude that we screwed over the Native Americans. We stole their land and tried to exterminate them. But what are we gonna do about it? Give the land back? To who? All those native Americans weren’t from the same tribe, and they were fighting with each other before we came along.

But if we give the land back, where do we go afterwards? Back to the places our ancestors fled from originally? What if the current occupants don’t want us?

What we should do with history is learn from it. Cherish the good. Learn from the bad. Try to do better next time.

“Those that fail to learn from history, are doomed to repeat it.” – Winston Churchill

“Those that fail to learn from history, are doomed to repeat it again during summer school.” – Beulah Limekiller, 7th Grade History Teacher, Elmore Blight Junior High

About Myiq2xu - BA, JD, FJB

I was born and raised in a different country - America. I don't know what this place is.
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54 Responses to Past Imperfect

  1. myiq2xu says:

    Personal note:

    Those of you who have been following me for a while should realize that springtime is the time of year I tend to flake off. So don’t be surprised if my posting becomes a little erratic in the next few weeks/months.

    I have no specific plans, I just recognize the symptoms.

    • Wanda says:

      Ha! What a typical republican hypocrite you are: mentally ill and jobless yet telling everyone else they’re crazy and should get a job. Priceless!

      • myiq2xu says:

        I have been a Democrat for thirty years now. But I guess I am typical – mentally ill and jobless yet telling everyone else they’re crazy. But I’m not an angry prog like you. How does an ideology that is supposedly based on love for your fellow man thrive on so much hate and anger?

        • Wanda says:

          I dont hate you, I pity you. And who ever gave you that hippy dippy idea of what a democrat is, Glen Beck? That’s what you macho rethug types used to like to think when painting liberals as weaklings actually resonated. The country has moved on, get over it. We put up with your generation’s bullshit for long enough and now it’s time to for you all to just shut up and go play with the grand kids. You just don’t have the numbers anymore so why upset your blood pressure? And if you promise to just slink off quietly we won’t take away your social security, although I don’t know why we shouldn’t considering that’s what you want to do to us. But hey, maybe we ARE the party that loves our fellow man…

          • myiq2xu says:

            I don’t listen to Glenn Beck. I don’t listen to Rush Limbaugh or watch Fox News. I AM a liberal. You are a progressive.

            Liberals have principles. Progressives just have goals.

            You don’t love anybody except yourself. Maybe.

        • HELENK says:

          sick little sucker isn’t she. a useful tool..
          don’t know much about history. hasn’t got a clue.

        • lyn5 says:

          The Democrats went down the rabbit hole with Obama, and they haven’t been heard from since. It’s time to watch “A Fish Called Wanda.”

        • wmcb says:

          I give Wanda’s stamping shakey-fist a 2 on a scale of 1 to 10. Meh, I’ve seen better.

      • wmcb says:

        Yep. “You are all crazy, go get a job you losers” is the sum total of myiq’s posts. He has never, ever advanced a more nuanced view of politics than that. Or pondered the struggle of helping the poor while at the same time noting that jobs are generally better than welfare, and it might be nice if we had some.

        He’s a one-dimensional boogey man, he is. So pat yourself on the back for your moral superiority and go away. There still won’t be any jobs.

      • votermom says:

        Heh, myiq’s got a crazy stalker lady. It really is spring.

      • angienc (D) says:

        What a typical vile prog you are — stupid, socipathic, pathetic and meaningless.

    • DeniseVB says:

      myiq’s got the (spring) feVAH, probably needs more cowbell ? 😉

  2. it’s nice that you are experiencing spring in CA. Hope some of that rubs off here in the midwest….

  3. The pendulum has swung so far in the public school teaching of history. We were all taught a sanitized version of events wherein America can do no wrong. Children now are taught that America is evil! EVIL!
    As you say, the truth is somewhere in between. The big problem, and the thing that has not changed, is we do not teach our children to THINK. We should present the facts, and give them the tools to form conclusions. This lack of reasoning ability became all too apparent in the last few election cycles. I remain angry. The information was/is out there- yet the electorate has been so conditioned and so dumbed down they do not even bother to go look it up!

    What is this “spring” of which you speak?

  4. yttik says:

    I think what’s different about America is that we have impossible standards for ourselves. Both versions of history, the idealistic sanitized history, and the “America is evil” meme, reflect hyper critical attitudes rooted in perfectionism. Much of the rest of the world is more live and let live, were human, stuff happens.

    LOL,seriously, look at the British! They spent centuries invading, colonizing, and seizing all the resources. In spite of this, there’s no hand wringing, no national guilt. For the opening ceremonies in the Olympics, they actually bragged about the industrial revolution with giant smoke stacks that pumped real smoke into the crowd. That is so un-American, it’s kind of funny. We’d have to apologize for that entire period of time, have protests, pass resolutions, educate people on the evils of coal…

  5. wmcb says:

    As I repeat like a mantra, everything in life is a tradeoff. Yeah, there were abuses during the Industrial revolution. But none of the assholes who moan and self-flagellate over it would want to live without the comfort and advances it brought us and the world. Most of the world lived in abject poverty that we cannot imagine before the robber barons got the engines if industry roaring.

    It’s like that stupid “Story of Stuff” video. Kiss my ass. I notice that none of the people who want me to do penance and bemoan “stuff” are handing in THEIR stuff to go live in a medieval mud hut with a 35 yr life expectancy and 3 out of five children who survive infancy.

    The USA did some shitty things during the Cold War. Uh huh. We also kept the world from falling under the iron boots of the most murderous, opprressive regime in modern history, that slaughtered and imprisoned millions. If we get dinged for the one (which is fair), then we ALSO get credit for the other.

    Everything has a price. Everything is a tradeoff. That’s not “justification”, that’s just a recognition of reality.

    • myiq2xu says:

      Silly girl – don’t you know that “profit” is the money stolen from workers?

      • wmcb says:

        *rolls eyes* Yes, I remember the 50’s and 60’s and 70’s, and all the great advances for humanity that rolled out of Soviet factories.

        When the USSR fell, and we started seeing the footage and pics, we all LAUGHED at their cars, their houses, the state of their technology. It was so bad it was a joke. It was like a damn time capsule, where they were all stuck with the (capitalist) technology they started with, and hadn’t advanced one iota. The standard of living sucked. But, yeah, yay common “ownership”.

  6. wmcb says:

    And as long as I’m ranting, here’s another thing: I am tired of hearing about how “The White Man’s Culture” needs to be rejected. What a fucking idiotic thing to say.

    There is no such thing as “The White Man’s Culture”. You know what there is? Succcessful culture. Approaches and choices that proved to be better choices and approaches (not from the moral standpoint, but from the succeed and survive standpoint).

    White men took over the world not because they were white, but because they noticed in the middle ages that Welsh longbows gave one a distinct advantage over the more common shortbows. So they changed. They noticed that a monetary and banking system worked better than barter. They noticed that that numeric system that those Arabs had totally kicked ass, and appropriated it.

    Most of what is sneered at as “white man’s culture/civilization” didn’t even originate with the white man. What the white man DID (which made his culture dominant), was to seek out and notice what WORKED, and promptly make it his own. They emulated successful behavior everywhere they found it.

    The reason why so many ancient tribes and cultures died out wasn’t just a story of “white man brutality”. It was a story of refusing to realize that their approaches and traditions were not as successful in the wider world.

    It is the same reason why I want to scream when I see young black people encouraged to think of education, etc as “acting white”, and reject it. How the FUCK do you think “the white man” got to BE “the white man”? By doing that which succeeds. It wasn’t white skin, it was savvy and adaptability, and stealing and using what WORKED, in whatever culture they found it.

    Don’t hate the white man. BE the white man (i.e. successful), and surpass him.

  7. driguana says:

    under the radar…..just so happens that Niger has the highest grade uranium deposits on the planet…remember the whole “forged” documents deal with Sadam Hussein during the Bush administration??

  8. DandyTiger says:

    Humans are monkeys that conquer and war sometimes. Every territory has its history of conquering and warfare. If we decide it’s time to right wrongs, where would we stop? When will the Gauls be compensated by the Romans? Seems like History should be taught with some perspective so kids don’t get bent out of shape about one event.

  9. angienc (D) says:

    OT — Last chance before the broadcast starts to get in/change your picks for our Oscar pool — Pool name is “TCH” password is “crawdad”

  10. HELENK says:

    I wish these fools could meet someone who was in Hungary when the tanks came or meet a ex german soldier who still thought Hitler was good for Germany. Meeting people who lived through parts of history and listening to them gives a whole different perspective on things.

    Also the American thinker had a three part series on bill ayres and the weatherman underground and their objectives. Looks like many are being achieved

  11. lyn5 says:

    OT, this is a cute movie. It is free with amazon prime.

  12. HELENK says:

    read some of the quotes of stalin and think about what is happening in this country today

  13. HELENK says:

    in the you can not make this up catagory

    maybe they should have given him a swift kick in the rear

  14. HELENK says:

    just found this site and it fits in with this post

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