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Historical Amnesia

Page history last edited by Bob Andrian 5 years, 10 months ago

Historical Amnesia: The Manipulation of the Past


While authoritarian regimes like China and faux democracies like Russia have a clear advantage when it comes to distorting or even attempting to erase their more often than not unpleasant pasts, democracies have also been culpable in doing so to serve the needs of the present. Often these needs revolve around perpetuating a country's exceptionalism, reflected in national myths that reinforce a kind of virulent nationalism.


Take, for example, the story of how the Smithsonian Institution in Washington wanted to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the end of World War II. Even today in Japan advocates of Japanese nationalism and backers of the Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, continue to try to deny the military's role in providing so-called "comfort women," most of them from Korea, but also from all of Japan's occupied lands, to the troops during the Great East Asian War.


What students read in their textbooks has a profound effect on how they understand their nation's history. At the moment, for example, the Texas Board of Education is poised to vote on and certainly approve a new set of textbooks that have come under fire by scholars for their historical inaccuracies and a marked tendency to place ideology ahead of ideas, the result of "controversial and politicized curriculum standards adopted by the Texas board in 2010. An independent review of the textbooks conducted by the non-profit Texas Freedom Network pointed out the serious flaws in U.S. and World History and American government textbooks.


In succinct and substantive book, Dangerous Games: The Uses and Abuses of History, Margaret MacMillan quotes the British writer John Carey:


"One of history's most useful tasks is to bring home to us how keenly, honestly and painfully, past generations pursued aims that now seem to us wrong or disgraceful." (169) 


MacMillan herself concludes,


If the study of history does nothing more than teach us humility, skepticism, and awareness of ourselves, then it has done something useful. We must continue to examine our own assumptions and those of others and ask, where's the evidence? Or, is there another explanation? We should be wary of grand claims in history's name or those who claim to have uncovered the truth once and for all. In the end, my only advice is to use it, enjoy it, but always handle with care. (Ibid) 





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