Commonplace Book #51

History wars frequently turn on the issue of patriotism.  However, arguments over history can easily be misrepresented and oversimplified as pitting unpatriotic historians against patriotic citizens.  For some Americans, history that dwells on unsavory or even horrific episodes in our past is unpatriotic and likely to alienate young students from their own country.  “Grim and gloomy” history is seen as undermining the national goal to educate loyal, proud Americans rather than pessimists and cynics.

On the other side of the issue are those who believe that exposing students to grim chapters of our past is essential to the creation of informed, responsible citizens.  Historians are not trying to trash American when they examine and analyze the brutality of slavery, the genocidal displacement of indigenous people, the exploitation of child labor, the frailty of national leaders, or contradictions between lofty political principles and shabby practices.  Most historians are reformers by nature, and they critique the past in order to improve American society and to protect dearly won gains.

Gary Nash, et. al, History on Trial15.

2 thoughts on “Commonplace Book #51

  1. I’ve found that reading critical history is inspiring. Consider that among the greatest American revolutionaries and visionaries were the Anti-Federalists, deists, and radical democrats that would be disgusted by what our country has become. These included but are not limited to Thomas Paine, Ethan Allen, and Thomas Young. Paine went so far as to be rabidly anti-Christian in his opposition to the corruption of organized religion, although never atheist.

    How can one be an American patriot in any meaningful sense while having little if any knowledge and appreciation for the Spirit of ’76? Otherwise, patriotism is simply a tool of ignorant propaganda. To be critical is to be American, in that it was criticism upon which our country was founded. This isn’t true of most countries, but no informed person can deny this of the United States. To be uncritical about American history, if anything, is unpatriotic.

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  2. For some Americans, history that dwells on unsavory or even horrific episodes in our past is unpatriotic and likely to alienate young students from their own country. “Grim and gloomy” history is seen as undermining the national goal to educate loyal, proud Americans rather than pessimists and cynics.

    At which point, what’s the diff between History and Propaganda?

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