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Archive for June, 2011|Monthly archive page

A LIE TOLD BY BULLIES

In History, Politics on June 9, 2011 at 12:49 pm

Who controls the past controls the future.   Who controls the present controls the past. 

1984, by George Orwell

Sarah Palin and Richard “Rick” Santorum may not have read Orwell’s  classic novel.  

But they share at least one thing in common with the fictionalized dictator–Big Brother–who rules Oceania:  A desire to attain power through the rewriting of history.

On June 2, Palin, the former Alaska governor, offered her version of Paul Revere’s famous ride: 

“And, you know, he warned the British that they weren’t gonna be takin’ away our arms by ringing those bells and making sure as he’s riding his horse through town to send those warning shots and bells that we were going to be secure and we were going to be free.” 

Generations of Americans who had been taught that Revere made his “midnight ride” to warn colonists–not the British–of approaching British troops were understandably surprised.  

Revere made his ride without the ringing of bells and the firing of warning shots.  Secrecy was in fact critical as the silversmith raced to warn Samuel Adams and John Hancock that British troops were coming to arrest them.

And on June 7, Santorum, the former United States Senator from Pennsylvania, gave perhaps the most bizarre reason ever imagined for the launching of D-Day against Nazi forces in Normandy, France: 

“Almost 60,000 average Americans had the courage to go out and charge those beaches on Normandy, to drop out of airplanes who knows where, and take on the battle for freedom.

“Average Americans.   The very Americans that our government now, and this president, does not trust to make decision on your health care plan. Those Americans risked everything so they could make that decision on their health care plan.”

Generations of Americans who had been taught the June 6, 1944 invasion of France had been launched to destroy the Third Reich were understandably surprised. 

But there is more.

Palin supporters made dozens of changes to the Paul Revere page on the Wikipedia site  after Palin made her nonsensical claims.  Their goal  was to rewrite history to conform with the latest historical fallacy put forth by their political idol.

Wikipedia allows people to add information or make changes to pages, but an army of dedicated users worldwide seeks to ensure the information is accurate.

Jeff Schneider, a Wikipedia online editor and contributor, said that Palin interview videos weren’t considered “reliable sources” for updates to the site.  He added that he was the first to “remove someone adding historic information based on Palin’s interview.”

Again, Orwell’s novel is instructive:

“And when memory failed and written records were falsified—when that happened, the claim of the Party to have improved the conditions of human life had got to be accepted, because there did not exist, and never again could exist, any standard against which it could be tested.”

The leaders of the Soviet Union were notorious for repeatedly rewriting history to suit their own political ends.  Thus, Joseph Stalin wrote his longtime rival, Leon Trotsky, out of the history books.  

Similarly, his successor, Nikita Khrushchev, consigned Stalin to historical infamy–while ignoring his own role in carrying out Stalin’s murderous purges of millions.

And so on–through the succeeding reigns of Leonid Brezniev, Yuri Andropov, Constantin Chernenko and, finally, Mikhail Gorbachev. 

As a well-known underground joke went among Russians: “The trouble with writing history in the Soviet Union is you never know what’s going to happen yesterday.”

Neither Palin nor Santorum controls the “bully pulpit”  of the Presidency to shape public opinion.  So they must rely on their own powers of persuasion–and, in Palin’s case, on her army of political enforcers–to reshape history into whatever they want it to mean at any given moment.

Similarly, Republican leaders generally have enthusiastically used inaccurate historical comparisons to advance their party’s fortunes.  President Barack Obama, for example, has been labeled as both a Nazi (complete with a Hitler mustache) and a Communist.

The Nazi comparison ignores the most obvious truth about Nazism: There was no place in this party for anyone who wasn’t white.   And the Communist libel ignores the billions of dollars Obama authorized to save the capitalistic infrastructure that was on the brink of collapse.

Moreover, a man who was both a Communist and a Nazi would have to be constantly at war with himself.  The dictators of the Soviet Union (Joseph Stalin) and Nazi Germany (Adolf Hitler) felt themselves to be locked in a mortal struggle during the 1930s.

And, from 1941 to 1945, they–and the millions of soldiers under their command–waged that struggle openly and brutally. 

But for those bent on attaining total power, historical truth by itself means nothing.  History–like the lives of those they seek to rule–exists only as a means to whatever end they desire.

It remains for the potential victims of such power-seekers to remember the truth offered by Ernest Hemingway: “Fascism is a lie told by bullies.”

A similar alarm was sounded by the man Republicans now revere as their holy-of-holies: Ronald Reagan.   Speaking at a Presidential news conference on January 29, 1981, he bluntly described the philosophy of the leaders of the Soviet Union–in words that now apply as fully to the leaders of his own party:

“The only morality they recognize is what will further their cause, meaning they reserve unto themselves the right to commit any crime, to lie, to cheat, in order to attain that, and that is moral, not immoral, and we operate on a different set of standards.  I think when you do business with them, even at a detente, you keep that in mind.”

ALL GLORY IS FLEETING

In History, Politics on June 6, 2011 at 1:51 pm
It wasn’t until the evening of June 5, 2011, that I remembered how I had spent that same day 43 years earlier–in 1968.
 
I was then 16, and finishing my first semester of high school.  During the early hours of June 4, a longtime family friend had called my mother to say that New York Senator Robert F. Kennedy had just been shot, after winning the California Presidential primary. 
 
My mother immediately awakened me, and I stayed glued to the TV for at least an hour, even though I faced high school the next day.  Then, when I woke up later that morning, I asked my mother if I could stay home to watch the news reports on Kennedy’s condition. 
 
I hadn’t read much about the Kennedys up to that point in my life.  I knew only that his brother John had been President and Robert had held a major position in that administration.  I was going on raw emotion, and for some reason, I felt I had to stay on top of the latest news bulletins about his condition until I learned whether he would survive. 
 
My mother said yes, and I stayed home that day, watching one news report after another.
 
Early on the morning of June 6, I turned on the news and learned that Robert Kennedy had died hours earlier, at 1:44.  I felt there was no longer any reason for staying home, since the worst had happened. 
 
My mother sent me off to school that morning with a note excusing me from the previous day’s classes on the grounds that I had been affected by the Kennedy assassination.  No school official questioned my reason for having stayed home.
 
At the time, the nation had been plunged into grief.  Few people could talk about anything else–or wanted to. 
 
Today marks the 43rd anniversary of Robert Kennedy’s death–and it means nothing except to those who intimately knew RFK (a rapidly shrinking number) and  scholars of political history. 
 
Ironically, 24 years earlier–to the day that Kennedy died–another violent event had siezed the world’s  headlines: On June 6, 1944,  the Allies had launched the invasion of France–known forever as D-Day–which marked the beginning of the end for the Third Reich.
 
In 1962–six years before Robert Kennedy’s assassination– 20th Century Fox released  “The Longest Day,” its World War II epic salute to the Normandy landings.   The movie is full of references to “how we’ve changed” since the invasion, as if there were only two dates in history: Before D-Day and After. 
 
But, today, 67 years after the landings, they are largely forgotten–except by scholars, World War II buffs and those rapidly disappearing ranks of elderly soldiers who took part in history’s “longest day.”
 
Remembering the anniversary of Robert Kennedy’s assassination serves two purposes:
 
First, to pay tribute to “a good and decent man” as his surviving brother, Edward, described him in his eulogy.  Kennedy was more than the brother of a martyred President, and more than a would-be President himself.
 
He was a man of uncommon common sense.  It was his wise counsel during the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis (“I don’t want my brother to be the Tojo of the 1960s”) that prevented an American invasion of Cuba–and the subsequent launching of nuclear Armageddon. 
 
Unknown to the United States, the Soviets had already installed tactical nuclear weapons on the island.  An American invasion would have almost certainly triggered their use–and, in turn, a fullscale nuclear exchange between the United States and the Soviet Union.
 
It was Robert Kennedy who, as Attorney General, declared war on organized crime–and forced the Justice Department and FBI to do likewise.   The nation’s current successes in crippling the power of the Mafia and other criminal syndicates can be traced directly to Kennedy’s all-out drive of the early 1960s.
 
Second, the anniversary of Kennedy’s death should remind us of the transitory nature of history itself–and how events that we now believe to be of earth-shaking importance ssume that quality only for the moment, and then quickly pass into oblivion.
 
Again, the lesson of Robert Kennedy is instructive: From 1964 on, political pundits speculated about the inevitability of his running for–and even his becoming–President.  Comedians, likewise, had a field day with the subject.
 
“Will he or won’t dn’t he run?” was the Big Question before 1968.  And after he took the plunge, in March, 1968, the question was: “Will he become President?” 
 
And then, suddenly–in a series of pistol shots–it was over, and what had seemed inevitable was no longer a matter for discussion, or even interest. 
 
Suddenly, what was on everyone’s mind was: “What will Hubert Humphrey do?” “What will Richard Nixon do?”  Just as, today, we wonder:  “Will Sarah Palin run?”  “Will Barack Obama be re-elected?”
 
As breathlessly as millions now await the answers to such questions, they will be answered soon enough.  And, sooner than we want to admit, the events prompting this curiosity will, in turn, be eclipsed by others.
 
At the end of the 1970 movie, “Patton,” George C. Scott, as George S. Patton, recites what could well be an epitaph for the general–or anyone else who seeks power and fame. 
 
Speaking of the triumph awarded a victorious general of ancient Rome, Scott/Patton intones:  “A slave stood behind the conqueror, holding a golden crown–and whispering in his ear a warning that all glory is fleeting.”
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