First appeared in print in The Rhinoceros Times, Greensboro, NC
About forty years ago, people went crazy with American history.
Somebody noticed that our schoolbooks were giving our children the false impression that America strode the world like a glorious angel, righting all wrongs and blessing every other nation with our wisdom and largesse.
What with the Vietnam War and all the sudden wisdom of those student protesters who knew that any country that wanted to draft them had to be evil, it became quite fashionable to "correct" that false impression and tell the "truth" about history.
It's a good idea for history to be truthful. In the long run, lying about history doesn't work, because when the people find out the truth, they stop believing anything you say.
But in the short run, you can get a lot of mileage out of one-sided history.
All that ain't-America-wonderful history ignored some important points. American Indians were pretty badly treated. American blacks were freed in the Civil War but re-oppressed by landlords and Jim Crow laws for many decades. American foreign policy saved freedom in Europe but supported dictatorships and toppled governments in Latin America and other places, often as a favor to American corporations that preferred working with bribable officials.
The trouble is, the cure for that whitewashed American history has been even worse than the disease. Because now we get a version of history that's even more one-sided. In the name of multiculturalism and "fairness" and "facing the truth," we get a view of history in which America is always the villain.
That version is now so ingrained that our recent history and current events are usually reported, to one degree or another, from that perspective.
When we went into the Gulf War, it was about liberating a little country -- Kuwait -- from the vicious dictator who had conquered it. But about fifteen minutes after the war ended, the only version we ever heard was, "It was about big oil. Those oil companies got the U.S. government to protect their profits."
During Clarence Thomas's confirmation hearings, it was obvious to most of us that somebody was lying and it wasn't Clarence Thomas. Polls at the time showed that most Americans believed Thomas and didn't think he had ever behaved improperly to Anita Hill. But fifteen minutes after it was over, the only version we heard was how Anita Hill was a victim of sexual harassment -- instead of how Clarence Thomas was a victim of character assassination.
And guess what? The polls now show that the revisionists have won. Most Americans -- even those who were following events at the time -- will tell you that the Gulf War was about oil and Clarence Thomas probably said "something" to Anita Hill.
Does it matter?
You bet it does. Because that process of painting America as the bad guy is already beginning with the Terrorist War.
Already there are voices talking about how America has somehow mistreated the Arab and/or Muslim world, thereby creating the grievances that led to 11 September.
Those who oppose us keep invoking "history" to prove we're evil:
Our support for Israel's wars of aggression has antagonized the Muslim world.
We're treating Muslims now that way we treated Indians back in the 1800s.
We're as evil as the wicked Crusaders who invaded the Holy Land back in Medieval times.
I'd like to look at some of those charges.
Oldest story first. Awful as the behavior of the Crusaders was, let's remember that the Crusades were an attempt to reclaim from Islam the sacred Christian sites that had been taken by Muslim armies, by force, a few centuries before.
It was Muslim armies that conquered the then-Christian lands of Egypt, Palestine, Syria, the north coast of Africa, and Spain. And even after the Crusades, Muslim armies -- this time Turks -- once again conquered the Christian Byzantine Empire and swept right up to the gates of Vienna. No war between Christians and Muslims has ever resulted in Muslims losing territory that was not Christian long before Muhammed was born.
The fact is that when it comes to imposing a religion on large populations against their will, Islam remains the world champion. (In Sudan, Christians and pagans are still being slaughtered in the name of Islam.) And since we're not interfering with the religious beliefs of Muslims in any way, comparisons with the Crusades are merely slander.
As to the comparison between our treatment of Muslim nations and our treatment of American Indians, let's set the record straight.
Yes, almost every treaty between American governments and American Indian tribes was broken.
Usually by both sides.
That's because the U.S. government couldn't stop whites from settling in Indian lands, and because Indian leaders couldn't keep their rambunctious young men from raiding in lands where whites had been promised they would be safe.
Did U.S. troops commit massacres against the Indians? Yes.
But that was in the context of constant terrorism by Indians against whites. Torture, murder, and mutilation of captives was a long tradition among the tribes before Europeans came, and those methods continued to cause terror and inflame hatred throughout the wars with American Indians.
No American government that did not do whatever it took to stop Indians from their terrorist campaign against Americans could have remained in power.
It was miserably unfair that the Indians lost their land and their way of life. But it was also miserably unfair that so many American citizens who were just trying to farm a plot of land that looked empty to them when they arrived were grotesquely murdered along with their families.
It is a lie to list the atrocities committed by only one side, while painting the other side as perfectly noble and heroic all the time.
Should U.S. warships have shelled neighborhoods in Beirut back during Reagan's presidency? Of course not. It was militarily stupid and caused needless civilian deaths. Nor should Clinton have bombed Khartoum. Nor should the CIA have propped up the Shah's regime in Iran. Our hands are not clean.
But then again, Arabs shouldn't have invaded Israel in defiance of the U.N. mandate that created two states, one Muslim and one Jewish, in Palestine in 1948. Muslim terrorists shouldn't have assassinated the King of Jordan or murdered Israeli athletes in Munich or committed the thousands of other murders they have committed against Israelis and Americans and fellow Muslims for the past decades.
History matters, in part because our enemies keep invoking their twisted version of history in order to justify what they do to our people, and to paint us as monsters for defending ourselves.
So let's face history head on. We're tough. We can deal with the truth.
But let's have the whole truth. Not just the version where we're always the bad guys. Because we didn't become the land of hope and opportunity for half the world by being evil.
People the U.S. has defeated in the bitterest of wars have fared far better than the people our enemies have ruled over.
And in case anybody hasn't noticed, all that bombing we've done in Afghanistan has resulted in a noticeable increase in freedom and human happiness there, too -- without making the Afghani people change their religion or bow down to our flag.
You don't have to be perfect to be the good guys in this war.
Copyright © 2001 by Orson Scott Card.
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