Rewriting History

In the Smithsonian Magazine’s excerpt of Narrative Tension, Inc.. From the forthcoming book Making History: The Storytellers Who Shaped the Past by Richard Cohen to be published by Simon & Schuster, Inc. Printed by permission, Richard Cohen writes this:

‘Around the same time, between 1934 and 1936, the Politburo, or policy-making body, of the Russian Communist Party focused on national history textbooks, and Stalin set scholars to writing a new standard history. The state became the nation’s only publisher. Orwell had it right in Nineteen Eighty-Four, where the Records Department is charged with rewriting the past to fit whomever Oceania is currently fighting. The ruling party of Big Brother “could thrust its hand into the past and say of this or that event, it never happened—that, surely, was more terrifying than mere torture and death.”’

He is writing about the old U.S.S.R., the Soviet Union, and how Putin’s Russia draws from the lessons learned from Lenin and Stalin about rewriting history to control the narrative.

I can’t help but think of the United States. GOP led legislatures in several states are fighting hard to rewrite history or ignore it, battling against teaching critical race theory, solidly misrepresenting it as they do. Alabama passed HB 312 earlier in 2022, 65 to 32. Pushed through by Republicans, the bill bans teachers from broaching subjects that Republicans find divisive, like ideas that the United States is now or was ever racist.

Ignoring facts or history that is painful or inconvenient has become the GOP standard. It’s been going on in Texas for over twenty years. The Texas textbook controversy erupted as Republicans attempt to color the United States in white, Republican, Christan hues. Trump leans hard on this idea of changing history to fit his needs, denying that he fairly lost the election in 2020, accusing everyone he can of voter fraud, lying, and cheating, without offering evidence. Officials and lawyers working on his behalf have had their cases and lawsuits rejected as lacking merit in courts across the United States. The most prominent cases of voter fraud involve Republican and Trump lackeys being caught while illegally voting or tampering with the process. Search the net for proof of this. Of course, deep Trumplicans hold that anyone saying or printing anything except their version of the truth is guilty of spreading false news.

This is all supported by ‘Evangelicals’, a group that holds the world is only six to ten thousand years old, depending upon which group you hear. They ignore all evidence and facts to the contrary. Listening to such would distort their reality.

This operating process of distorting reality and twisting and denying history is just like Russia and the old U.S.S.R. It’s sad but not surprising that several Republicans are admonishing the world for not embracing Russia’s excuses and lies as the truth for why they invaded Ukraine. Why, paraphrasing their thinking, Russia is only destroying Ukranian cities and killing Ukrainians to protect them. Doesn’t that sound like thinking right out of 1984?

And the one excusing Putin and Russia most of all? That would be the dear GOP leader, Donald J. Trump.

The GOP has become a shallow party, bereft of principles, and desperate to remain meaningful. The only way they can now make history is by pretending what has happened — and is happening, in the case of climate change, and LGBTQ rights and equality — didn’t happen. Deny, deny, deny.

It’s been a long, sickening fall to watch for the party begun by President Lincoln.

13 thoughts on “Rewriting History

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  1. Reblogged this on Filosofa's Word and commented:
    So, considering history … if we determine to no longer teach about slavery, about Jim Crow … what will we replace it with? We cannot simply ignore the fact that Black people existed. Young people aren’t stupid … don’t you think they will ask questions? And what about books and movies like “Gone with the Wind” and “To Kill a Mockingbird”??? Will we destroy all copies of those? What do we replace the now-illegal facts of history with? Our friend Michael Seidel has written an excellent, thought-provoking post … thank you, Michael!!!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. They can rewrite it all they want–in their own states. BUT when their kids go to college in other states, they will find out they have been lied to, and then what? They are going to look mighty foolish, not because they are, but because their parents did this to them. Do parents really think they can hide the truth from their kids? They are the foolish ones!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Michael, good post. Many thanks. I updated this post a few days ago as it is in synch with yours. Thanks, Keith

    “It troubles me that so many state legislatures have passed laws to restrict public school teachers from teaching our bad actions in history under the premise it is bothersome. Slavery of African-Americans and its persecuting brother the Jim Crow era did happen. Genocide of Native Americans and stealing their land did happen. Firing gays and lesbians who worked in government jobs under the Lavender Scare did happen. Blackballing so-called Communists under the McCarthy witch hunts did happen. And, we did detain Japanese Americans in camps.

    We may not have had a Holocaust in the US where 6 million Jews were murdered by the Nazis, but Jews did get persecuted here, too. We must know these lessons. If we fail to learn history, we are destined to repeat it. And, that concerns me.

    So, take a trip to the well-done Greensboro Civil Rights Museum at the site of the Greensboro Four sit in or another similar museum close by to your area. Or, listen to the song “Strange Fruit” sadly sung by the great Billie Holiday, which was so profoundly disturbing about the lynching of African-Americans, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover tried to ban it from being played.

    Our country’s history is filled with imperfect leaders who sometimes failed to live up to our ideals. We should know the what, when and why these things were allowed to happen and avoid them in the future.”

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks, Keith. I think many of us are noticing the perfect storm of declining education in red states; the rise of fake news. conspiracy theories, and ignorance among the Republican base; and a desire to go back to something that never really was by trying to rewrite history. You cite many ways they can overcome it, but many of them don’t seem to want to accept the burden of learning and facing reality. I think that’s what most deeply troubles me. What will it take to wake them up?

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Michael, it truly is an uphill journey. Another challenge is much of history never gets taught in the first place. I only learned of the Lavender Scare, Tulsa massacre, Wilmington (NC) coup, eg, in the last ten years. I learned of heroes like Dr. Viven Thomas, Temple Grandin, Alan Turing, Anne Morgan, Marcel Marceau (as a WWII hero, not a mime) in recent movies. It takes an effort to learn history, which makes it easier for folks to whitewash it. Keith

        Liked by 2 people

  4. I am often very saddened to read post from Keith, Jill and now yourself on the continued decline of the USA.
    Writing from the UK by the way.
    From my early childhood in the late 1950s I became aware of the USA, culturally and the vibrancy, inventiveness and constant challenging of conservative values took hold, thus by my teens the USA was my go to place for music (we’ll leave out disco), TV comedy, films etc. The politics fascinated for then the two major parties could not be defined as our Conservative (Right) and Labour (a turbulent mix of various Left-wing ideas).
    And over the past 15 years the Right of ‘The Old Intolerance’ slithered back until 2016 when I could only feel despair for my adopted nation.
    I have ‘bent ‘ Keith and Jill’s ears over this on several occasions on the next theme.
    History in its broadest scope over the past 5,000 years suggest the USA could be on a path of disintegration as the nation it is, into a collection of quite separate nations, with a sort of talking shop Washington, some flourishing, others falling under the commercial power of larger overseas nations and some regressing into grimly comic opera set ups. The only question being ‘What to do with all those nuclear missiles?’.
    Hard times are ahead and maybe The American Experiment is coming to an end.
    I would prefer not. There are larger uglier beasts out there.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Yes, I can see why they — we — and our posts are downers. My writing is often my attempt to understand WTF is going on, especially when matters go against known science, proven facts, or established history. Ergo, such a post as this one.

      Jill is as frustrated as me — or I’m as frustrated as her — and we’re both a little weary. So we vent. Keith is actually an optimist, continuing to point to how people can learn and change, and the many venues available. But we also like to keep up with the news, and, yeah, current news is pretty damn bleak. Yes, our irritation, anger, despair, and frustrations flare.

      But I’m ultimately a hopeful, optimistic person. I don’t think I’d continue as a sixty-six-year-old struggling novelist if I was not. While the Great American Experiment has had abundant ups and downs, current times may not be a solid predictor of what’s going to happen. Consider the centuries of history behind the creation of England, Great Britain, the UK, and what all those variations imply. As each event unfolded, how accurate were the predictions of what ultimately emerged?

      What we’re witnessing with the Right of ‘The Old Intolerance’ may be a dead cat bounce, a final attempt to try to be relevant and have things the way they want it, the way they imagined it was because they live in isolated, insulated circumstances, and don’t see the greater body of existence and the great changes being manifested. Of course, matters aren’t helped that you have ego driven, power hungry, intelligent people who are willing to take advantage of such people. Such has always been the cause. There will always be the ignorant and someone who will use them.

      But I have hope. I have hope simply because we are discussing such matters as a fluid gender human and rights for others who do not find a standard CIS profile. I have hope because science will march on. There might be a great cataclysm. We may lose some people, knowledge, and history, but humanity will again pick up and go forward, and we will learn and improve. Baby steps, and the long view.

      The United States may fragment. I can see it doing so; I can see it not doing so. It would really depend upon the masses of that moment, their thinking, and the charisma of the leaders arising in that period. While it may not continue to exist as a government or nation, though, I think the spirit that sustained the United States will persevere — baby steps and the long arc of change and growth, as well as justice and equality — and will be remembered, celebrated, and emulated. And something more beautiful and better will arise. After all, the United States itself depended upon the many things that happened in the crucible of human civilization prior to its existence to reach that point when someone said, “All men are created equal.”


      Liked by 2 people

      1. With folk like you, Jill and Keith in your own differing ways there is hope. I actually believe in Hope but in a dark, gritty, keep on keeping on way.
        The posts you all write do not affect me as downers, they anger me. Angry that these creatures are allowed to caper about mocking your democracy for their own bigoted regressive ends. Angry in an old European Way, because we have seen this so many times and had to eradicate them with blood and treasure. A fair measure it in latter years American. (Sorry if that sounds gory and melodramatic- European History is a bit like that- no coincidence opera came out of Europe). Of course the eradication was not always by Fair-Minded, Righteous democratic folk, usually the least worst alternative and even then things didn’t work out for the betterment of folk, just stopping the slide, for some anyway.

        To get back on track I guess my view of the USA is through that European prism because essentially for better or for worse the USA still has a Euro-identity (and these days vice-versa). With this in mind it is easy to visualise the USA in the form of a construct such as The Roman Empire and The Holy Roman Empire, a large conglomerate of peoples under one central administration. (Ironically sometimes more tolerant than its component parts). Eventually both being pulled apart by an inability to hold the disparate groups together under its influence (that’s one opinion).

        The problem for the USA seems to be from this perspective is that the Liberal / Centre is not galvanised sufficiently to push back; the closeness of the votes in 2020 should have been alarm bells enough. Skits on SNL, cartoons and erudite columns in sympathetic outlets just will not hack it anymore. What is required is a Win Back America movement, this would be a coalition which would have to accept its difference and just work to the simple goal of the systematic dismantling of the current Right in the eyes of the public as a viable form of governance for the good of all. If you need an historical example look back to WWII and the Allies (USA- flawed biased democracy. GB similar but with an Empire and USSR- under Stalin- say no more) this was a traditional ill-matched argumentative mutually suspicious alliance, but they had one focus, get rid of the Axis but all means, and they stuck with that, by all means necessary. Now if you take out the death dealing part, this should be the approach for the Liberal / Centre. It will be a long hard road, and if played properly will not be ‘nice’ (you need an LBJ from the pre-Vietnam War years), but it could be done.

        Hard times are ahead Michael. I wish you folk well. Again sorry about the tone and the harsh suggestions. European, so far Left as to give a MAGA member nightmares and a bloody-minded pragmatist, steeped in Realpolitik; bit of grim mix.
        I read Keith’s to give me the other perspective.

        Take care and look after you and yours.

        Liked by 2 people

      2. Sorry for the slow response but it took me some time to process.

        I appreciate your thoughts and candor. I would love a Win Back America campaign. I could see that as a possibility, yet Democrats are infuriating in their ability to sabotage themselves – just look what Sen. Manchin is doing to the works.
        Yes, we definitely need an LBJ, someone who can work the aisles and personalities. We haven’t had anyone remotely like that since Bill Clinton, while the GOP keeps finding someone to realign the GOP again and again.

        I don’t mind the tone nor suggestions. I want thoughts and ideas from outside of my bubble. They’ll often weary and anger me, but yours did not. You have a reflective mind, and I appreciate that.

        Yes, my wife and I have been ready for hard times for some time. It gets exhausting, debilitating. Perhaps I’m a fool – or maybe it’s my coffee talking – but I think that some change for the good is afoot in the United States. Not because of Joe Biden, no, nor any particular Democrat nor any leader that’s out there. No, like many changes, this is coming from the ground up. I think we have been awakened. (I hesitate to even write those words for fear of jinxing us.) It’ll not be a straight path; there will be setbacks. But I do think we’re going to swing forward again.

        Cheers and hugs from America, Michael

        Liked by 2 people

  5. Hi Michael.
    Thank you for your kind words.
    I sympathise with you over the failure of The Democratic machine to mobilise. From what I can gather there’s something of desperation in some parts not to be noticed by The Right, a genuine fear of physical harm. It seems the days are gone when anyone would be confidence enough to emulate Ed Koch with his “How’m I doin’?….(Though I have a suspicion if he was around he’d still be doing it and ‘tearing a fresh one’ on any MAGA who crossed his path).

    I’ve added a new one to the ranks of ghosts to come back….Robert Kennedy, who was aggressive, combative and never forgot a slight, he would have chewed up Cruz and not missed a beat. Never mind Fluffy Head Palin and her babbling about Far Left, what does that silly creature know about The Far Left? I live The Far Left. Aside form a few Coffee shops, improve theatre groups and internet sites where is this ‘Far Left’ in the USA?
    With this sort of Right-Wing Freak Show running about the place like a collection of Circus Clowns who’ve drunk too many sugar fizzy drinks laced with Amphetamines, you may well be correct in perceiving some change, coming up from the streets and the grass roots. History suggests Humanity follows the Action – Reaction – Action phases in a regular cyclic move. It will indeed be a long hard fight and be prepared for it to get messy. More friendships lost, families split, communities divided, states finally becoming so different you’d feel you’d need a passport to enter one.

    A nation state is a restless creature. The USA being still a young one. The Civil War was the sort of event which usually takes place after a ‘Revolution’, because they are also messy; dysfunctional coalitions who are united only it ‘We want to do it OUR way,’. When the dust settled and the bands stop playing the different OUR way arise.
    What is happening now is another act of the drama which is The USA, only not so easily geographical, though in itself can be seen as The USA’s turn at dealing with an internal tectonic tension, which has been building up since probably the 1970s, even the end of WWII; chose / choose your seminal event, the USA has had a busy time since 1945.

    Kick back Michael, the USA no matter how flawed is worth the struggle. If you are within any movement starting up and I can help in some small way. Let me know.

    Best Wishes from UK (well currently UK)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Roger. You provide a lot of ideas to contemplate. Some thoughts jump out in my head.

      Yes, even Barack Obama admitted he was actually a Reagan moderate, but as a Black, he was painted to be ‘far left’ by many right-wing sites and pundits.

      I don’t look to the Democratic Party for hope. As a progressive, we organize on an ad-hoc basis according to the need of the moment. Women do most of the organizing and energizing, and most of these women are sixty years old plus. We have been gratified to see our local high school students take some actions, but they are also inconsistent.

      Internal storms are a good way to express. There will always be some, but I lament that what seems to remain at the center of so much of our issues are matters of capitalism that is then used as a wedge issue to divide and confuse. Perhaps we’ll reach the point that the reaction this time will be strong enough to give us a monumental push forward so that we can come closer to the ideals espoused by the founders regarding freedom, democracy, and equality. I’m not holding my breath, but I am crossing my fingers.

      Cheers, Michael


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