Thursday, January 28, 2010

The Day the History Died

Howard Zinn, an American historian who opposed the Vietnam war died on Wednesday.

Last week, Glenn Beck, an opinion giver on Fox News decided to rewrite history, starting with World War two, in a one hour special. His purpose making "Revolutionary Holocaust: Live Free or Die", is to set people straight, explaining that Hitler was actually a left wing, not a right wing dictator. And to furthermore prove that the Progressive movement in the United States is going the same direction as went Hitler, Mao, and Stalin.

We didn't have enough headache pills, so I was not able to sit through the entire hour, but I did see a little bit of it.  At first I could not understand why the shocked tone, as Glenn Beck explained that Hitler and Stalin both invaded Poland at the same time. Then I realised that his audience would probably have never heard of that part of WW2, as most Americans are taught in school that WW2 started at Pearl Harbor. So no wonder he made it sound like this was some kind of secret thing that had been covered up for eighty years.

Maybe I have a slanted view on this because I taught history myself, but I really think Canadians would probably know something more about the invasion of Poland than Americans. That is because, if nothing else, people in a country are taught about what got them into a war. For the US it was Pearl Harbor. For Canada it was the invasion of Poland. Oh, sure you can find the occasional American who never heard of Pearl Harbor. And you can probably find even more Canadians who don't know about Hitler's invasion of Poland. But I'll bet a lot of Americans are like Glenn Beck, who probably just found out about Poland a few weeks ago.

I found the Glenn Beck special to be quite confusing historically, but technically excellent propaganda, even by Nazi standards, if the aim is dividing Americans against each other.

Glen Beck did bring up one new fact I was not aware of. There are a couple of quotes by George Bernard Shaw, where he suggested gas chambers be used to kill people. This was before Hitler even thought of it. Beck further linked George Bernard Shaw to Obama by revealing that both had won the Nobel prize. (Though Shaw's was not for peace, obviously). And he linked Shaw even more closely to Al Gore by noting that both of them had won an Oscar and a Nobel prize.

I looked up the quote, and apparently it is true. Actually I kind of expected it to be true, because bizarre revelations like this do not work well if they are wholly fabricated. I don't claim to know what G.B. Shaw was thinking when he wrote that stuff. Maybe he was thinking what I'm thinking, which is let's set up gas chambers for all the Glenn Becks of the world. Or maybe he was being funny, or maybe he was being serious. For sure GB wrote it before Hitler thought of it, and the world was so horrified by Hitler's actions that we have recoiled from many ideas that were commonly held even before the Nazis came to power. (such as racism for example). And to be fair, Shaw wrote over 13,000 letters in addition to his literary work. I'm sure you could find something to support almost any position in there. By comparison to my one year blog (where you can already find enough material to send me to jail forever in some jurisdictions, and to hell for eternity in the rest), I have only 300 entries so far. Imagine all the self incriminating stuff I could write if I had another forty years to go at it!

What was especially funny to me, was that the G.B. Shaw quotes were kind of wasted on Glenn Beck's target audience, as none of them had ever heard of George Bernard Shaw. And their comments on Youtube indicated that Beck had forgotten to mention that Shaw died a long time ago. So it is possible even for Glen Beck to overestimate the intelligence of his audience.

Howard Zinn died and passed on the torch to a new generation of history teachers, who apparently want to use history to promote hate against their fellow citizens. Glenn Beck, please, if you are reading this: Promoting hate is much closer to the evil stuff  of Hitler, Stalin, and Mao, than is promoting health care.

Here is something else GB Shaw wrote, also prescient.

"It is said that every people has the Government it deserves. It is more to the point that every Government has the electorate it deserves; for the orators of the front bench can edify or debauch an ignorant electorate at will. Thus our democracy moves in a vicious circle of reciprocal worthiness and unworthiness."

Picture: G.B. Shaw wrote a famous play about Joan of Arc that I studied in high school literature. I can't wait for the Glenn Beck to do a special on it.


  1. George Bernard Shaw was a Fabian. For whack jobs like Beck, I suppose that's close enough to 'Communist' for all practical purposes.

    Oddly enough, I'm in the process of rereading Brian Loring Villa's Unauthorized Action, about the Dieppe fiasco. From that book: 'The American press - seemingly unaware that the number of U.S. rangers who participated in the raid was approximately fifty - headlined that the Yanks were storming Europe'.

    Given that there is evidence that many American college students have such a poor grasp of history as to believe that the U.S. fought Russia in WWII, it's not surprising that nut bars like Beck can successfully hawk their wares.

    Comments like, 'Hitler’s underlying admiration for Marxism was obvious.' What?! The man has evidently never read Mein Kampf.


  2. I have nightmares about the shortcomings of our educational system, in particular the inadequacies of history programs. After all, as George Santayana so eloquently put it, 'Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it.'

    Regardless of the all the touted justifications ('inclusiveness,' political correctness, development of 'self-esteem') my perception is that the content of history programs has been rendered into what historian Jack Granatstein refers to as, 'the blandest of mush' and 'air-brushed accounts of the past.'

    Now, perhaps more than ever, an understanding of history is essential if we're to be able to deal with the emerging crises - political, economic and environmental.

    So it is with great disappointment that I read that conservatives in Texas have succeeded in injecting distortions into textbooks, in effect, rewriting history.

    For a nation that prides itself on valuing 'liberty and truth,' allowing this form of revisionism places them squarely in the same camp as Stalin and Putin.

  3. " is an axiom in political science, that unless a people are educated and enlightened, it is idle to expect the continuance of civil liberty, or the capacity for self government."

    From Texas Declaration of Independence 1836

    A fine line in education between enlightenment and brainwashing.