Monday, June 25, 2007

Historical Revisionism - Everybody's Doing It

Historical revisionism is nothing new. The power elites have been re-writing history to suit their own ends for as long as humans have populated the earth. And people wonder if skepticism is hardwired; and if so, why. Uh huh, no brainer that. We've all heard the old adage that to "...ignore history is to repeat it." I guess that depends on just what "history" one refers to.

Today, discussions around inaccurate historical portrayals even extend to video games.

In the real world, the most visible and egregious historical revisionism is going on in Japan. Conservative lawmakers last week denied that there was ever a "rape of Nanking." No, the massacred Chinese must have died in some other manner 70 years ago this anniversary year. The Japanese Prime Minister insists that the Imperial army didn't use "Comfort Women;" and now, new textbooks that ignore the military's edict to loyal residents of Okinawa to commit suicide rather than surrender to the Americans have so riled the island natives that their parliament has issued a statement condemning the oversight by design. Read about it here. How is it that a country that makes such great cars and robots can get accurate historical reporting so wrong? Unbecoming at best, a PR disaster at worst.

And of course, Japan, China and Korea are engaged in a vocal and sometimes naval confrontation over several small groups of disputed islands that are largely uninhabited but hold some sway over fishing and oil/mineral rights. Each side has historical claims to buttress its arguments.

Holocaust deniers; apologists for repressive dictators; and, the obsessed with power and security are always - it seems - busy re-writing history for their own ends. Nowhere is this phenomena more prevalent than in long-running ethnic and territorial disputes. Take the Northern Irish "troubles," the Turkish/Kurdish wars; the Middle East morass; Tibet, and just about every case where indigenous populations were displaced by colonizers for example. And when potential war crimes are involved, the re-writing of history reaches a fever pitch. Wingnut Christian fundamentalists are even trying to re-write American history to ignore the animists, theists, Unitarians and agnostics among our founding fathers and their families. And I won't even get into the major historical debate recently stimulated by a fiction novel: The Da Vinci Code. There's no shortage of relevant contemporary efforts to re-write history.

Not to be outdone, the Bush administration has taken the trend to new heights. For this crew, history is a fluid, moving target that can be altered and substantially re-written on a minute-by-minute basis dictated by need. Reality does not play an important role in the equation. And the main-stream media appears to be willing participants in the charade. In this environment, it is encouraging to this observer that citizen journalism and bloggers have risen to provide alternative sources of information, analysis and opinion. Leave it to the grassroots to get it right, governments and the traditional media are doing a great job of proving that no-one else can be trusted.

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