Rewriting History

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Rewriting History

How the search for a sanitized past is erasing its vital lessons
From the August 2001 Trumpet Print Edition

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it,” said poet-philosopher George Santayana.

Winston Churchill said that the further you look into the past, the further you can see into the future.

But can we truly learn from history when its lessons are constantly being revised and rewritten before our eyes?

Popular today is the revisionism trend, where history is revised, seemingly, to reflect a more accurate account, when—in most cases—it is mainly to appease the current social, political, economic, religious or racial biases of those who record it.

This dangerous trend of watering down history in the quest for “unbiased” and politically correct accounts is covering our eyes from history as a whole—averting our attention from those lessons of the past that we must learn, lest we be doomed to repeat those same mistakes.

Revisionism is the “advocacy of the revision of an accepted, usually longstanding view, theory or doctrine, especially a revision of historical events and movements” (Websters ii New Riverside University Dictionary).

L.S. Stavrianos wrote, “Each generation must write its own history, not because past histories are untrue but because in a rapidly changing world new questions arise and new answers are needed” (Lifelines from Our Past:A New World History, p. 13).

The revisionist movement gained momentum in the 1960s and ’70s, “when the notion of shared American values was shattered by domestic turbulence and unpopular foreign wars,” wrote Craig A. Lockard for the May 2000 Perspectives. “Many historians concluded that the old Western civilization course was outdated and that its approach gave students a misleading view of history reflecting only American orientations.” What occurred, Lockard wrote, was a “‘paradigm shift’ in historiography that reflected the rapid changes of the post-World War ii years.”

Revisionism—Good and Bad

Before we delve into revisionism any further, we must admit that history is not a mere record of facts. It involves interpretation by fallible, human historians with their own opinions, cultural influences and biases.

As historian Dr. Herman L. Hoeh wrote in his Compendium of World History, “A historian is not a scribe, but a judge of the evidence that is brought before him. He is his own final authority. He is not judged by, but sits in judgment of, history. Whatever evidence does not conform to the commonly accepted beliefs of the age or community in which he lives he summarily rejects!

“History, in other words, is based only on that part of evidence which agrees with the prevailing opinions of the society in which a historian lives…. Historians admit it!”

And so do revisionists. They cry out with warnings against viewing history through the discriminatory bias of our Western eyeglasses.

Yes, history is an interpretation of the facts by the historians. Many Western historians were affected by their biases—perhaps dismissing specific minorities from their accounts. To reflect the truth, certain historical inaccuracies or discriminatory slants must be altered.

Revising or rewriting history is admirable in some cases: When it is done in search of greater historical accuracy in light of new evidence, new facts, or facts that had been ignored because they disagreed with social and cultural interpretations of years past.

Over the past few decades, for instance, music history has been revised to include many African-American and women composers who definitely are worth mentioning in the hall of great composers—those who, we can only assume, were left out simply because of the exact kind of bias many revisionists warn against.

There certainly is good in these adjustments to history, as long as they do not go to the opposite extreme of totally ignoring the majority just for the sake of it being the majority—the equivalent of rejecting Mozart’s or Beethoven’s contribution to music merely because they were Caucasian Europeans!

The extreme in historical revisions that unduly overemphasize minorities or “underdog” social groups is one of the dangers of revisionism. The other is revisionism’s relation to relativism—a popular trend in education today. In the study of history, this trend not only states that man’s account of history is lacking and, in many cases, not wholly accurate, but that, because of this fact, we must never state with authority that certain things are historical fact. Historical conclusions are, thus, based mostly on theories.

Craig Lockard observed, in the reassessment of American history, that developments in this direction “did not establish a new consensus but did enlarge the debate.” Modern education does not give answers; it stops at asking all sorts of questions.

How are we, or our children for that matter, supposed to learn the lessons of history—making sure not to repeat its mistakes—when we cannot decide what those lessons are?

Exalting Enemies of World War II

Now to some specific examples of harmful revisionism. Three recent studies have been issued in the past year that “soften the accepted image of Adolf Hitler, making the Führer appear more human and credible than ever before,” reported Norman Lebrecht of the Spectator (Oct. 28, 2000).

The bloodthirstiness of this great tyrant and murderer of the 20th century, and his Nazi cohorts, is being severely undermined. The three works, Hitler 1936-1945, Nemesis, by Ian Kershaw; The Third Reich: A New History, by Michael Burleigh; and The German Trauma, by Gitta Sereny, all give Hitler and his Reich a softer face—relegating the demoniacal bigot to “just another conqueror, somewhat nastier than Napoleon or Peter the Great but equally huge and unavoidable” (ibid.).

Lebrecht concluded his review of the three volumes (emphasis mine): “The uniqueness of Hitler was his racial hatred, his urge to exterminate entire peoples. If this distinction ever gets blurred, the lessons of history will have been lost forever.” Yet, they will not be lost. If history teaches us anything, it states that those lessons will just have to be learned again, this time even more painfully!

The greatest thrust of revisionism is a rewrite of many aspects of World War ii, what Lebrecht calls “the greatest moral conflict in modern times.” It is the lessons of this war that we must heed the most—especially today, as the world stands in a similar situation—poised and ready to dive into another great world war of more cataclysmic and nuclear proportions.

This may sound alarmist to those who have forgotten these lessons. But to those who remember the history of that great war, they can see the world is on the brink of another massive conflict.

Many of our own leaders warned us about repeating the mistakes of that great global fray. A document signed by Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill about American-British policy on Germany in February 1945 stated, “It is our inflexible purpose to destroy German militarism and Nazism and to ensure that Germany will never again be able to disturb the peace of the world. We are determined to disarm and disband all German armed forces; break up for all time the German General Staff that has repeatedly contrived the resurgence of German militarism.”

We have ignored this proclamation. We are actually aiding the rise of German militarism. Churchill warned about the “endless repetition of history.” And it will repeat, once more.

At the end of World War ii, General Douglas MacArthur saw the grave situation of the world, with the introduction of nuclear weapons. He realized that man could not survive if history repeated itself in the manner of world war. “Men since the beginning of time have sought peace,” he said in a speech following the surrender of the Japanese armies. “…Military alliances, balances of powers, leagues of nations, all in turn failed, leaving the only path to be by way of the crucible of war. The utter destructiveness of war now blocks out this alternative. We have had our last chance. If we will not devise some greater and more equitable system, our Armageddon will be at our door.

Yet we still choose to revise our view of the Second World War. In this revision, countless historians, journalists and other giants of academia are not only trying to get us to see a more human side to Hitler, but even to the atrocities committed. Minimizing the horrific Jewish Holocaust is revisionism’s large crusade of the moment: to show how it was not a calculated effort for genocide, that not nearly so numerous Jews were exterminated, that concentration camps were not for mainly extermination in the first place, that many photographs, films and recordings of speeches were faked, and that many eyewitnesses lied.

Yet the Bible warns of a great final war to end all wars—one even worse than World War ii! It shows that many people will be taken into captivity in the worst time of suffering ever to strike the Earth (Dan. 12:1; Matt. 24:21-22)—a more grisly reoccurrence of the Jewish Holocaust that too many are willing to minimize!

And as we allow Germany and its dark hour of World War ii to become sunnier in the pages of our history books, we are cozying up to the same country in a foreign-policy agenda that will assuredly bite us soon. We seek the friendship of a German-led European Union—a beast that is already showing its fascist fangs, as we have repeatedly shown in this magazine—yet most are too blind to history to see it. It is this economic, political and military union that is rising on the world scene as a beast that will devour our nation!

In the recent movie Pearl Harbor, in addition to the blatant historical inaccuracies (which Hollywood usually doesn’t mind letting slip by), was the humanizing of Japan—shifting our view of the harbor’s attackers from warmongers to glory-seeking soldiers.

This agrees with America’s revising of its foreign policy toward this nation—letting Japan ignore its pacifist Constitution that the U.S. wrote for it after the Second World War so that Japan would not re-arm again, but stay under the protection of the U.S. Now, we are letting Japan gain much strength militarily. We are forgetting history! And our weak memory will be our demise as the world is plunged soon again into war.

If this rose-colored view of our World War ii enemies is not enough to make us see the dangers of revisionism, perhaps another trend, happening alongside these just mentioned, will help us to recognize those dangers.

Condemning Our Own History

As Japan, Germany, the Nazis, Hitler, fascism and tyranny are getting a more glamorous mention in the annals of history, British and American history is being shoved into a corner—many of those great events that shaped our nations’ identity are no longer taught in mainstream history classes. Leave it to our politically correct revisionists to exalt our enemies and abase our own values and beliefs!

Dr. Nick Tate, chief executive of the School Curriculum and Assessment Authority in Britain, has warned that factual knowledge in British history classes is being sidelined, that heroes and heroism are being debunked and nationalism is being regarded with distaste—with the emphasis now being on skepticism and the analysis of original sources, according to a September 19, 1995, article from the Daily Telegraph.

Dr. Tate’s study of over 100 history books showed that most treated their content superficially. Color pictures and photographs were plenteous, while written sources were few. “There was simply not enough information in some of these books to enable pupils to understand in any depth the periods they were studying,” he said (op. cit.).

Of great concern to Dr. Tate was that Britain’s sense of national identity was being undermined, even betrayed. “Pupils need a sense of the nation as an entity which stretches back in time and through whose continuing existence past and present are linked” (ibid.).

Another problem in the revised history as studied today: The “recognition of the significance of individuals is sometimes absent,” Dr. Tate said (see p. 22). Yes, we are skeptical about those great figures of the past—we are quick to judge them for actions we find inexcusable today. (Yet, at the same time, we celebrate “celebrities from the world of pop culture about whom a much deeper skepticism might be in order,” Tate said.)

“An understanding of the contribution of individuals,” Tate believes, “helps pupils see themselves as part of a continuum to which they may contribute” (ibid.).

Finally, what Dr. Tate found problematic in the study of history in schools was a lack of teachers able to teach history any other way than that being foisted upon children from these textbooks. These teachers were allowed, in their degree programs (as Dr. Tate pointed out), to take such unrelated topics as “Early Near Eastern Civilization (c. 3000 b.c.)” and “Living and Working in Luton 1918-1980.” They did not have a deep enough understanding of the scope and sweep of history to counter the shallowness of the grade school texts.

Certainly, the U.S. is not blameless in this history debacle. In 1994, the U.S. government allocated $1.75 million into a rewrite of history. The resultant National Standards for United States History features George Washington merely as a footnote—not even mentioning that he was the first president. It does not mention the first gathering of the U.S. Congress. The Gettysburg Address is given a single mention.

According to the Daily Telegraph of November 5, 1994, “The World History Curriculum Task Force has excised many of Britain’s great political and military figures and battles.”

Students of 20th-century history hear no mention of prime ministers Churchill and Thatcher, yet are required to “research the global influence of cnn in the past ten years.” Another assignment might be, “Poll your classmates to find out how many consult astrology in newspapers.”

Many great English literary figures are left out. Shakespeare is barely mentioned.

This revision of American and British history puts more emphasis on global history or non-Western elements—on Africa and the East. “Much emphasis is given to the role of women. Harriet Tubman, the Afro-American who helped rescue slaves, is mentioned six times, while white males of similar achievement are ignored. A typical question will be: ‘Assess the role and status of women in Tokugawa, Japan’” (ibid.).

Colonization is severely condemned, and those who crossed the Atlantic several hundred years ago are labeled “intrusive European migrants.”

Gilbert Sewall, director of the American Text Book Council, said: “This global historical revisionism is totally unbalanced. It compresses Western achievement in a poor and unflattering light that makes all the former colonial powers come off very badly, in particular Britain.”

This philosophy pervades the educated of the Western world: Colonization is bad; imperialism is bad; monarchy is bad. But if the Germans demonstrate imperialist tendencies—as they revive the greatest of all world-domination plans: the Holy Roman Empire—it is okay, it is meant to be understood.

Those who condemn Britain’s view of spreading their ways across the globe should consider for a moment the far less humane tactics of the Germans and the Holy Roman Empire over past centuries! Yet, we would rather humanize that history! How foolish.

World War ii revisionists who say they rewrite history in search of greater “accuracy” are victim to worse biases than those they condemn.

True History

We live in a world presently ruled by a great deceiver—a being who hates history. The Bible reveals that this being, Satan the devil, “deceiveth the whole world” (Rev. 12:9).

Satan knows that if he can deceive the world on the subject of history, he can keep people from understanding the current unfolding of dangerous world events.

On the other hand, the Creator God is the greatest historian there is. In His Word, the Holy Bible, He constantly admonishes His people to understand all things “from the beginning.” The Bible essentially is a history book.

All knowledge, especially historical knowledge, must be based on God’s Word. God is the true, unbiased source. “Thy word is truth,” Jesus said to His Father (John 17:17). God is no respecter of persons (Acts 10:34; Rom. 2:11). The Bible—though secular historians will never admit it, because they (with their biases) believe it to be extremely biased—is the greatest history book mankind could have. The Bible, its “bias” being the absolute truth, answers many questions historians have never been able to answer.

Yes, history does need to be revised and rewritten—not to appease social standards or political correctness, but to reflect truth and accuracy based on God’s Word.

The Bible, in addition to being a book of history, is a book of prophecy—history written in advance. Prophecies show that mankind will repeat the devastating history of World War ii. Though this time the suffering will be far worse, Jesus Christ will intervene before mankind annihilates himself (Matt. 24:21-22).

Upon His return, Christ will establish the perfect, peace-producing government of God on Earth. He will erase uncertainties and falsehoods from man’s history books and teach him absolute, true history. History will be rewritten and revised once and for all. The rest will be history.