“Every Generation Rewrites the Past” according to author John Dos Passos. Passos is certainly not the only one to make that observation. People have been revising history as long as there has been history. Sometimes it’s a useful exercise to correct a minor historical error. Like the story about George Washington and the cherry tree.
Generations of children were told the story of how little George fessed up to his father about cutting down the tree as a way to teach the value of truth telling. I suppose the inventor of this story missed the irony of telling a lie to teach the value of truth.
Sometimes history is revised to add something that had been omitted. Like detailed accounts of the poor treatment of some minority and immigrant groups, or proper credit for significant achievements. There are occasions where revisions are needed to reflect the discovery of new information or scientific breakthroughs.
But then there are times that history is revised for no other reason than to support a dominant political view or a popular belief. Who, upon gaining power and influence, can pass up the opportunity to revise the written record in order to enhance reputations, soften criticism, skew the description of events or eliminate them completely from the historical record?
A whole new view of history can be established by omitting something here, creating a hero there or putting a new twist on an old story. For instance, take World War II. Heroes were made of some senior military officers who were later shown to be more skilled at public relations than they were at military strategy. The noble service of minority fighting men was completely left out of the popular record as well as descriptions of the demeaning treatment they were subjected to.
When a future generation looks back on our current era, what are they likely to revise and how? An accurate record of our current time in the United States of America reflects continued racial discord, hyper political partisanship, a country living beyond its means and a labor force that has been outpaced by technology.
Would a future generation take an objective view of our era and determine that much of the racial discord was manufactured in order to maintain the relevance of the racism infrastructure? Would they view the mass incarceration of Black males as racially motivated or would it be seen as a monumental political failure involving both Black and White leaders?
Would a future generation view our political paralysis a result of intransigence on the part of one political party or another? Or would a major part of the blame be laid at the feet of the biased information explosion from the internet and the twenty four hour news cycles?
Considering the possibility that a future generation could be looking back on a country that went into complete economic collapse brought on by chronic overspending, how would they explain our behavior? Would they view our actions as the fulfillment of the saying, “Democracies work until the majority discovers that it can take whatever it wants from the minority?” Or, “Socialism works until you run out of other peoples’ money.” Or, the wealthiest Americans took total control of the system and pillaged it?
Or, will they look at a country that finally came of age and faced itself in an honest and forthright manner? Will they see a mature population that faced down its biases and began looking at things as they are and not the way they have been conditioned to see them? Is White racism actually responsible for Black failure or have large numbers of Blacks been conditioned to failure by the rhetoric of race profiteers?
Did the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Acts of the 1960’s actually clear the way for Minorities and Women to achieve their goals or were they only empty promises? Did the success of the top 1% of earners actually cause the deterioration of the middle class and the expansion of poverty? Will they write that democracy failed because of political paralysis and a failed educational system that could not be fixed because of special interest influence?
Right now our country has a lot of work to do to fulfill the dreams of our founders. Mature people need to confront their biases and engage other viewpoints in open minded dialog with a commitment to overcoming incivility and our culture of conflict. Let future generations rewrite our history as a great moment of enlightenment.