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According to Keith Windschuttle in his remarkable essay “National Identity and the Corruption of History,” the most dramatic manifestation of this matter occurred in 1992, the quincentenary of the discovery of the New World by Christopher Columbus. In one book after another, he notes, the European discovery was denounced as a calamity that befell native Americans and, perhaps the entire globe. In American Holocaust: Columbus and The Conquest of the New World, David Stannard accused Columbus of starting a process of unprecedented human destruction. Stannard wrote: “The road to Auschwitz led straight through the heart of the Americas.” In The Conquest of Paradise: Christopher Columbus and Columbian Legacy, Kirkpatrick Sale argues that Columbus found a land where man lived in harmony with nature and transformed it into one where he rapaciously exploited nature and exported this form of environmental abuse around the globe. This has left us, Sale notes, “at risk of imperilment — worse, the likely destruction — of the earth.”
So influential is this critique that when I asked a group of my daughter’s friends, who attended private schools in New York, what they could tell me about Columbus, they responded in unison that “he exported smallpox to the New World.” So much for the man who brought culture, learning, science and technology to primitive civilization.
A second manifestation of the same sentiment emerged in the national history standards for American students written in 1992. George Washington made only a fleeting appearance. The founding of the National Organization for Women was considered a noteworthy event, but the first gathering of the U.S. Congress was not. What was significant for the committee that wrote these standards were the claims of oppression against women, minorities and ethnic groups rather than the achievements of the Founding Fathers. In a book written by the principals, History on Trial, Gary Nash, Charlotte Crabtree and Ross Dunn contend that they are intent on “a history education that is fit for a democratic society.” What they mean by this is a history of discrimination, exploitation and hostility against American’s sub-groups instead of a history of great men and their accomplishments.
The problem with this approach is that is an effort to falsify the past. Ending slavery or emancipating women, for instance, were morally justified and fulfilled through a reliance on the Enlightenment and Christian principles of human equality. These developments were not brought about by slaves or women, but by white Protestant men. In attempting to write history from a multicultural perspective distortions abound. The War of Independence, to cite another example, was fought and won by Protestant males, despite a feverish effort to include minorities in the struggle by historical revisionists. In fact, African Americans and Indians, to the extent they expressed an opinion on the war, almost uniformly supported the British side. Facts, however, are inconvenient when they aren’t consonant with an ideological agenda adopted by historians of a revisionist bent.
NONETHELESS, THESE REVISIONISTS HAVE gained ground on every front and in the process have undermined the emotional side of patriotism and, alas, even the reasoned arguments for patriotism. Courses in American history and Western Civilization are increasingly bound to ideological interpretation. Even those who decry these courses are forced to be cautious for fear that extolling the values of the American nation and the civilization that gave birth to it might be seen as blind flag waving undeserving of scholarly consideration.
Another of the downsides of this historical revision is that group histories proliferate. In the United States at the moment African Americans, Mexican Americans, Japanese Americans, among others have called for histories of their own which often rely on the concept of grievance. In many of these ethnocentric programs the history of the nation is ignored. In one textbook on African-American history, Crispus Attucks, a mulatto inadvertently killed at the Boston Massacre, receives more space than Washington, Jefferson, Hamilton and Madison combined.
The spread of this “historical grievance” position is not confined to the United States and Europe. Israel is also in the throes of historical revisionism. The Jews who fled Europe seeking a refuge from the Holocaust have been recast as colonialists by scholars eager to reformulate the past on scant evidence, but with broad ideological considerations. The Six Day War has been put in the cauldron of revisionist theory and has been remodeled as a war of imperialism rather than a defensive war for survival. In each claim, there is a consequent incremental decline in the spirit that sustains patriotism. Why should anyone care about a nation of colonizers and imperialists, words that have been transmogrified into crimes?
Patriotism is refurbished by belief. In the end, even reasoned patriots who carefully weigh errors, mistakes, tragedy and achievement, must find something positive on which to hang their patriotic sentiment. The erosion of belief which afflicts the U.S. to some degree, Europe to a great degree and Israel as well, stands in stark contrast to Muslims who have a devotion to their faith and a geopolitical belief in its ultimate dominance. Perhaps this comparative examination — more than any other condition — explains why patriotism may turn out to be the overarching issue of this era.
A man of faith in a godless age is hitting Americans where it hurts.
Mr. and Mrs. American Spectator Reader, let P.J. O’Rourke talk sense to your kids.
In Britain, defending your property can get you life.
The debacle of this president’s administration is both a cause and a symptom of the decline of American values. Unless Congress impeaches him, that decline will go on unchecked. An eminent jurist surveys the damage and assesses the chances for the recovery of our culture.
It won’t take long for conservatives to scratch this presidential wannabe off their 2008 scorecard.
The American Christmas, like the songs that celebrate it, makes room for everybody under the rainbow. Is that why so many people seem to be hostile to it?
Was the President done in by the economy, or by the politics of the economy?