Monday, March 14, 2005
He who controls the past, controls the future; he who controls the present, controls the past
You all recognize that quote, I am sure. It's from the seminal George Orwell novel 1984. And I bring it up because of a disturbing book you should be aware of.
You can read the article at Slate here. But in short, it appears that Thomas E. Woods Jr., an assistant professor at Suffolk County Community College has written a "history" book called The Politically Incorrect Guide to American History. It should come as no surprise it was published by.........Regnery!!
This book slants hard to the right, but not in a conservative intellectual way. In fact, some notable conservatives like Cathy Young and Max Boot have decried this book. The issue is that this book is written from the new theo-con, anti-intellectual, populist point of view. And is, therefore, a piece of crap.
So, what's the big deal, right? The big deal is that this faux-history is currently at #217 on Amazon.com. It's also being pushed by the mouthpieces of this new low-brow movement, Sean Hannity and Pat Buchanan. In other words, it is beginning to infect the national fabric and will inevitably start being used as a reference and educational tool in certain circles.
I hate politics distorting history. I hate it on the left (I am not a fan of Zinn), and I hate it on the right. And this book does distort.
For example, on the first page, Woods claims the colonists "came from one part of Europe. They spoke a common language." Now, the article points out that Woods totally ignores the millions of African slaves that came over as well. But he also ignores the Dutch, German and French colonists, never mind the American Indians who were already here. In fact, in the wake of the Revolution, the Federalist Papers were also printed in German and laws were considered to print government documents in German as well. These are basic facts. I'm not a professor, and even I know that the American Colonial period was not one of a strictly English flavor.
And if you can't even get the start right, what hope is there for the rest of the book? He says that the South did have the right to seceed, even though "there is, obviously, no provision in the Constitution that explicitly authorizes nullification." (Apparently, the writings of slave-owner John Calhoun trump the Constitution). And it's not the Civil War, but the "War Between the States." which is what Confederate apologists everywhere call it. In fact, here are a couple of paragraphs from Max Boot's piece in The Weekly Standard that really drive it home:
"Other, more ideologically charged (but nevertheless much more accurate) names for the conflict," he adds, helpfully, "include the War for Southern Independence and even the War of Northern Aggression." According to Woods, the war wasn't really about slavery (no mention of the Emancipation Proclamation). It was really about the desire of Northern plutocrats to protect themselves from the threat of commerce being diverted to "the South's low-tariff or free trade regime." He approvingly quotes H.L. Mencken's comment that Union soldiers "actually fought against self-determination; it was the Confederates who fought for the right of their people to govern themselves." Well, not quite all their people. But the plight of African-Americans does not concern Woods any more than it did Mencken. Later on, he expresses disgust with federal desegregation policy in the 1950s and 1960s.
But first Woods gives a Gone With the Wind version of Reconstruction, with evil Republican carpetbaggers trying to rape the virtuous South. He is particularly upset about the 14th Amendment (he claims it was never lawfully ratified) because it barred former Confederates from holding political office. "Thus," Woods laments, "the natural leadership class of the South would be disqualified from office and disgraced forever by having been dishonored in a constitutional amendment." It never occurs to Woods that "the natural leadership class" may have disgraced itself already by holding fellow human beings in bondage
Woods says we never should have entered World War I, saying we had no interest in the affair. But he makes no mention of the unrestricted warfare practiced by the Germans at sea that was sinking American shipping. And he completely ignores the Zimmerman Telegraph, which promised Mexico their old land back if they'd attack the United States.
And World War II? That wasn't cause by Hitler ravaging Europe or the Japanese attacking Pearl Harbor. No, that was FDR's fault! Apparently we could have sat the second war out as well. I'm sure we'd have gotten along just swell with a Nazi-dominated Europe and the fascist Greater Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere.
I won't bore you with the rest of it (Guess how he feels about Clinton!). But it should come as no surprise that Asst. Professor Woods is a member of "The League of the South" If you are unfamiliar with these wingnuts, they support the secession of the South from the rest of the United States. How secession will affect Woods' employment at Suffolk County Community College in New York remains to be seen. They also tell their brethern not to "give control over their civilization and its institutions to another race, whether it be native blacks or Hispanic immigrants." I wonder if Sean Hannity believes that as well, since he seemed to like him so much.
This "book" is a fraud. Just from his rambling on the Civil War started proves it. How abolitionists were "agitators." How Lincoln was a big, bad man and that the war wasn't about slavery.
If, by some stroke of luck, Woods ever reads this...listen up, Chuckles. Lincoln may have been ambivalent about slavery. And the Emancipation Proclimation was as much a political maneuver to keep France and Britain out of the war as it was a justice of morals.
But there was the Missouri Compromise of 1820 and the Compromise of 1850. There was Uncle Tom's Cabin. There was the Fugitive Slave Act and Dred Scott decision. John Brown's revolt. The Kansas-Nebraska Act. "Bleeding Kansas." The Underground Railroad. The very basis of the foundation of the Republican Party was to abolish slavery.
In short, slavery was THE defining issue of the first 75+ years of the United States' existence. Whether Abe fought the Civil War over slavery is irrelevant, because that is precisely why the rest of country was fighting.
Sadly, this farcical tome will be the latest brick in the groundswell of anti-intellectualism that is sweeping the country courtesy of the theo-cons that Republicans allowed to take over their party. Once the haven of intellectuals like Bill Buckley, Milton Friedman and Leo Strauss, they now are led by men who think that evolution is a fraud, that the Christian God should rule the land, and that history is emminently malleable.
If you want a vision of the future, Winston, imagine a boot stamping on a human face forever.
Guess who's wearing that boot.