Happy Revisionist History Day

http://sheldonfreeassociation.blogspot.com/2008/05/happy-revisionist-history-day.html

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Revised and expanded from last year’s “Memorial Day” post.

Since, as Paddy Chayefsky has his main character say in his movie The Americanization of Emily,

” We…perpetuate war by exalting its sacrifices” (see this and this), I’ve long thought that what is called Memorial Day would be better recast as Revisionist History Day. The state inculcates an unquestioning faith in its war-making by associating it with patriotism, heroism, and the defense of “our freedoms.” This strategy builds in its own defense against any criticism of the government’s policies. Anyone who questions the morality of a war is automatically suspected of being unpatriotic, unappreciative of the bravery that has “kept us free,” and disrespectful of “our troops,” in a word, un-American.

But in fact the forces aren’t “serving their country” or “keeping us free.” They are doing the bidding of hack politicians, well-connected economic interests, and court intellectuals who are striving to achieve personal ambition, wealth, and historical legacies.

The secular religion we call nationalism, which keeps the wool over most people’s eyes, can be seen clearly in the criticism of Barack Obama for not wearing a flag lapel pin and his wife for saying she’s not been proud of her country until now. What is this thing, “country,” that we’re expected to love and be proud of? It’s never defined. But a big part of it is obviously the state and its war record. This is supposedly something to be proud of — and if you’re not, something is wrong with you.

To counter this common outlook, which people are indoctrinated in from birth, we should do what we can to teach others that the government’s version of its wars is always self-serving and threatening to life, liberty, and decency. A good way to spend part of the day would be to pick a war and read a high-quality revisionist account of it. Here are some books (in no particular order) you might use as a guide:

Wartime: Understanding and Behavior in the Second World War, by Paul Fussell
Emancipating Slaves, Enslaving Free Men: A History of the American Civil War, by Jeffrey Rogers Hummel
The Tragedy of American Diplomacy, by William Appleman Williams
The Civilian and the Military: A History of the American Antimilitarist Tradition, by Arthur Ekirch
The Politics of War: The Story of Two Wars which Altered Forever the Political Life of the American Republic, 1890-1920, by Walter Karp
The Costs of War, edited by John Denson
Overthrow: America’s Century of Regime Change from Hawaii to Iraq, by Stephen Kinzer
All the Shah’s Men: An American Coup and the Roots of Middle East Terror, by Stephen Kinzer
Blowback: The Costs and Consequences of American Empire, by Chalmers Johnson
The Sorrows of Empire: Militarism, Secrecy, and the End of the Republic, by Chalmers Johnson
War Is a Force that Gives Us Meaning, by Chris Hedges
A Peace to End All Peace: The Fall of the Ottoman Empire and the Creation of the Modern Middle East, by David Fromkin
The Gun and the Olive Branch: The Roots of Violence in the Middle East, by David Hirst

A good place to start is this article by Robert Higgs: “How U.S. Economic Warfare Provoked Japan’s Attack on Pearl Harbor” (The Freeman, May 2006).

Many other books and articles could be added to the list. The point is this: if we are to prevent wars in the future, we must self-educate and then, when opportune, teach others.

And spend part Revisionist History Day watching The Americanization of Emily. It’ll be worth your while.
Posted by Sheldon Richman at 10:44 AM

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