Vigilando al Gran Hermano: qué enseñan los libros de texto sobre el Gobierno Federal
En el libro se relata «Las patrañas históricas» que descubrió James Loewen, cuando leyó y analizó el contenido de 18 de los principales libros de texto historia que se utilizan en las escuelas de Estados Unidos
Historiador y sociólogo Estadounidense, dedicó mas de 1 año, a analizar libros de texto que se utilizaban en las escuelas de U.S, encontrando graves errores.
Patrañas que me contó mi profe (Loewen)
Última actualización el 2021-05-20 / Enlaces de afiliados / Imágenes de la API para Afiliados
Lies My Teacher Told Me:
Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong
Última actualización el 2021-07-20 / Enlaces de afiliados / Imágenes de la API para Afiliados
Watching Big Brother
What textbooks teach about the federal Gobernment
The historian must have no country.
—JOHN QUINCY ADAMS
What did you learn in school today, dear little boy of
I learned our government must be strong.
It’s always right and never wrong. . . .
That’s what I learned in school.
—“WHAT DID YOU LEARN IN SCHOOL TODAY?,” TOM PAXTON, 1963
We have to face the unpleasant as well as the
affirmative side of the human story, including our own
story as a nation, our own stories of our peoples. We
have got to have the ugly facts in order to protect us
from the official view of reality.
As long as you are convinced you have never done
anything, you can never do anything.
To study foreign affairs without putting ourselves into
others’ shoes is to deal in illusion and to prepare
students for a lifelong misunderstanding of our place in
The executive branch of the federal government
Some traditional historians, critics of the new emphasis on social and cultural history, believe that American history textbooks have been seduced from their central narrative, which they see as the story of the American state. Methinks they protest too much. The expanded treatments that textbooks now give to women, slavery, modes of transportation, developments in popular music, and other topics not directly related to the state have yet to produce a new core narrative. They no longer made the story of the state quite so central.
All current textbooks continue to pay overwhelming attention to the actions of the executive branch of the federal government. They still demarcate U.S. history as a series of presidential administrations.
Although textbook authors include more social history than they used to, they still regard the actions and words of the state as incomparably more important than what the American people were doing, listening to, sleeping in, living through, or thinking about.
What story do textbooks tell about our government?
First, they imply that the state we live in today is the state created in 1789. Textbook authors overlook the possibility that the balance of powers set forth in the Constitution, granting some power to each branch of the federal government, some to the states, and reserving some for individuals, has been decisively altered over the last two hundred years.
The federal government they picture is still the people’s servant, manageable and tractable.
Paradoxically, textbooks then underplay the role of nongovernmental institutions or private citizens in bringing about improvements in the environment, race relations, education, and other social issues. In short, textbook authors portray a heroic state, and, like their other heroes, this one is pretty much without blemishes. Such an approach converts textbooks into anticitizenship manuals—handbooks for acquiescence.
College courses in political science generally take one of two approaches when analyzing U.S. actions abroad. Some professors and textbooks are quite critical of what might be called the American colossus. In this “American century” (1917-2017?), the United States has been the most powerful nation on earth and has typically acted to maintain its hegemony.
This view holds that we Americans abandoned our revolutionary ideology long ago, if indeed we ever held one, and now typically act to repress the legitimate attempts at selfdetermination of other nations and peoples.
The realpolitik view
More common is the realpolitik view. George Kennan, who for almost half a century was an architect of and commentator on U.S. foreign policy, provided a succinct statement of this approach in 1948. As head of the Policy Planning Staff of the State Department, Kennan wrote in a now famous memorandum:
«We have about 50% of the world’s wealth but only 6.3% of its
population. In this situation, we cannot fail to be the object of envy and
resentment. Our real test in the coming period is to devise a pattern of
relationships which will permit us to maintain this position of disparity.
We need not deceive ourselves that we can afford today the luxury of
altruism and world benefaction—unreal objectives such as human rights,
the raising of living standards, and democratization.»
High school American history textbooks do not, of course, adopt or even hint at the American colossus view. Unfortunately, they also omit the realpolitik approach. Instead, they take a strikingly different tack.
They see our policies as part of a morality play in which the United States typically acts on behalf of
human rights, democracy, and “the American way.” When Americans have done wrong, according to this view, it has been because others misunderstood us, or perhaps because we misunderstood the situation. But always our motives were good. This approach might be called the “international good guy” view.
Textbooks do not indulge in any direct discussion of what “good” is or might mean. In Frances FitzGerald’s phrase, textbooks present the United States as “a kind of Salvation Army to the rest of the world.”
In so doing, they echo the nation our leaders like to present to its citizens: the supremely moral,
disinterested peacekeeper, the supremely responsible world citizen. “Other countries look to their own interests,” said President John F. Kennedy.
Today this “peacekeeping burden” has gotten out of hand: the United States now spends more on its armed forces than all other nations combined and has them stationed in 144 countries. But under the international good guy interpretation fostered by Kennedy and our textbook authors, these actions become symbols of our altruism rather than our hegemony. Since at least the 1920s, textbook authors have also claimed that the United States is more generous than any other nation in the world in providing foreign aid.
The myth was untrue then; it is likewise untrue now. Today at least twenty European and Arab nations devote much larger proportions of their gross domestic product (GDP) or total governmental expenditures to foreign aid than does the United States.
The desire to emphasize our humanitarian dealings with the world influences what textbook authors choose to include and omit. All but one of my original twelve textbooks contained at least a paragraph on the Peace Corps, and the tone of these treatments was adoring. “The Peace Corps made friends for America everywhere,” gushed Life and Liberty.
At least the Peace Corps means well. More important and often less affable, American exports are our multinational corporations. One multinational alone, International Telephone and Telegraph (ITT), which took the lead in prompting our government to destabilize the socialist government of Salvador Allende, had more impact on Chile than all the Peace Corps workers America ever sent to
Latin America. The same might be said of Union Carbide in India and United Fruit in Guatemala. By influencing U.S. government policies, other American based multinationals have had even more profound effects on other nations.
At times the corporations’ influence has been constructive. For example, when President Gerald Ford was trying to persuade Congress to support U.S. military intervention on behalf of the UNITA rebels in Angola’s civil war, Gulf Oil lobbied against intervention. Gulf was happily producing oil in partnership with Angola’s Marxist government when it found its refineries coming under fire
from American arms in the hands of UNITA. At other times, multinationals have persuaded our government to intervene when only their corporate interest, not our national interest, was at stake.
Concern to students
All this is a matter of grave potential concern to students, who after graduation may get sent to fight in a foreign country, partly because U.S. policy has been unduly influenced by some Delaware corporation, Texas construction company, or New York bank. Or students may find their jobs eliminated by multinationals that move factories or computer programming to Third World countries whose citizens must work for almost nothing.
Social scientists used to describe the world as stratified into a wealthy industrialized center and a poor colonized periphery; some now hold that multinationals and faster modes of transportation
and communication have made management the new center, workers at home and abroad the new periphery.
Multinationalization of the world
Even if students are not personally affected, they will have to deal with the multinationalization of the world. As multinational corporations such as Wal-Mart and Mitsubishi come to have budgets larger than those of most governments, national economies are becoming obsolete.
Robert Reich, secretary of labor in the Clinton administration, has pointed out, “The very idea of an American economy is becoming meaningless, as are the notions of an American corporation, American capital, American products, and American technology.”
Multinationals may represent a threat to national autonomy, affecting not only small nations but also the United States. When Americans try to think through the issues raised by the complex
interweaving of our economic and political interests, they will not be helped by what they learned in their American history courses. The topic doesn’t fit their “international good
Most history textbooks do not even mention multinationals.Among the six new books, just two books even mention the term, and both pair it with “benefit.”
Often multinationals bribe
Often multinationals bribe the elites of poor countries like Equatorial Guinea, Kazakhstan, and Nigeria. IBM, Monsanto, Schering-Plough, and many other companies have had executives or corporate policies in one country or another found to be corrupt. In Equatorial Guinea, for example, oil companies pay millions of dollars to the regime’s leaders for the privilege of taking the country’s oil—supporting their children in luxury when they study abroad, leasing buildings from them, and simply paying bribes. Meanwhile, three-fourths of Equatorial Guinea’s population suffers from malnutrition. Why do our oil companies do business this way? Because they pay royalties of only about 10 percent for taking Equatorial Guinea’s oil—far less than they would pay in a justly-run nation.
An antidemocratic force
In the process, these companies comprise an antidemocratic force that helps to solidify the control of a rapacious elite on the country. This is exactly the opposite of what U.S. influence should accomplish, according to either the realpolitik or “international good guy” model. Eventually, as in Iran, our entwinement with regimes like Guinea’s may come back to haunt us.
The authors of Pageant could use a shot of the realism supplied by former Marine Corps Gen. Smedley D. Butler, whose 1931 statement has become famous:
«I helped make Mexico safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped
make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys to
collect revenue in. I helped purify Nicaragua for the international
banking house of Brown Brothers. . . . I brought light to the Dominican
Republic for American sugar interests in 1916. I helped make Honduras
“right” for American fruit companies in 1903. Looking back on it,
I might have given Al Capone a few hints.»
Business influence on U.S. foreign polic
Business influence on U.S. foreign policy did not start with Woodrow Wilson’s administration. John A. Hobson, in his 1903 book, Imperialism, described “a constantly growing tendency” of the wealthy class “to use their political power as citizens of this State to interfere with the political condition of those States where they have an industrial stake.”
Nor did such influence end with Wilson. Jonathan Kwitny’s fine book Endless Enemies cites various distortions of U.S. foreign policy owing to specific economic interests of individual corporations and/or to misconceived ideological interests of U.S. foreign policy planners. Kwitny points out that during the entire period from 1953 to 1977, the people in charge of U.S. foreign policy were all on the Rockefeller family payroll. Dean Rusk and Henry Kissinger, who ran our
foreign policy from 1961 to 1977, were dependent on Rockefeller payments for their very solvency.
Ignore much of what the government does
Nonetheless, no textbook ever mentions the influence of multinationals on U.S. policy. This is the case not necessarily because textbook authors are afraid of offending multinationals, but because they never discuss any influence on U.S. policy. Rather, they present our governmental policies as rational humanitarian responses to trying situations, and they do not seek to penetrate the surface of the government’s own explanations of its actions.
Having ignored why the federal government acts as it does, textbooks proceed to ignore much of what the government does. Among the less savory examples are various attempts by U.S. officials and agencies to assassinate leaders or bring down governments of other countries.
The United States has indulged in activities of this sort at least since the Wilson administration, which hired two Japanese-Mexicans to try to poison Pancho Villa.
The U.S. government calls actions such as these “state-sponsored terrorism” when other countries do them to us. We would be indignant to learn of Cuban or Libyan attempts to influence our politics or destabilize our economy. Our government expressed outrage at Iraq’s Saddam Hussein for trying to arrange the assassination of former President George H. W. Bush when he visited Kuwait in 1993 and retaliated with a bombing attack on Baghdad, yet the United States has repeatedly orchestrated similar assassination attempts.
Anticommunism as the sole motive
Here Journey offers anticommunism as the sole motive for U.S. policies. Bear in mind that this incident took place at the height of McCarthyism, when, as commentator Lewis Lapham has pointed out, the United States saw communism everywhere: “When the duly elected Guatemalan president, Jacobo Arbenz, began to talk too much like a democrat, the United States accused him of
Fifty years later The American Journey maintains the U.S. government’s McCarthyist rhetoric. So do other textbooks, if they mention Guatemala at all.
Not one textbook includes a word about how the United States helped the Christians in Lebanon fix the 1957 parliamentary election in that then tenuously balanced country. The next year, denied a fair share of power by electoral means, the Muslims took to armed combat, and President Eisenhower sent in the marines on the Christians’ behalf.
This is standard textbook rhetoric: chaos seems always to be breaking out or about to break out, and Americans intervene only “reluctantly.” Other than communism, “chaos” is what textbooks usually offer to explain the actions of the other side. The recent edition of American Pageant relies on the older explanation, communism:
Both Egyptian and communist plottings threatened to engulf Westernoriented Lebanon. After its president had called for aid under the Eisenhower Doctrine, the United States boldly landed several thousand troops and helped restore order without taking a single life.
But communism was never a significant factor in Lebanon, and in other countries it often offers no better explanation than chaos. Kwitny points out that the United States has often behaved so badly in the Third World that some governments and independence movements saw no alternative but to turn to the USSR.
Since textbook authors are unwilling to criticize the U.S. government, they present opponents of the United States that are not intelligible. This only misleads and mystifies students. Only by disclosing our actions can textbooks provide readers with rational accounts of our adversaries.
Nixon helped the Chilean army
Undaunted by its failures in Cuba, the CIA turned its attention farther south. Only six of eighteen textbooks even mention Chile. “President Nixon helped the Chilean army overthrow Chile’s elected government because he did not like its radical socialist policies,” Life and Liberty says bluntly.
Why leave our involvement open to question? Historians know that the CIA had earlier joined with ITT to try to defeat Allende in the 1970 elections. Failing this, the United States sought to disrupt the Chilean economy and bring down Allende’s government. The United States blocked international loans to Chile, subsidized opposition newspapers, labor unions, and political parties, denied spare parts to industries, paid for and fomented a nationwide truckers’ strike that paralyzed the Chilean economy, and trained and financed the military that staged the bloody coup in 1973 in which Allende was killed. The next year, CIA Director William Colby testified that “a secret high-level intelligence committee led by Kissinger himself had authorized CIA expenditures of over eight million dollars during the period 1970-73 to ‘destabilize’ the government of President Allende.”
Secretary of State Kissinger himself later explained, “I don’t see why we have to let a country go Marxist just because its people are irresponsible.”
Chilean people’s “irresponsibility”
Since the Chilean people’s “irresponsibility” consisted of voting for Allende, here Kissinger openly says that the United States should not and will not respect the electoral process or sovereignty of another country if the results do not please us.
To defend these acts
To defend these acts on moral grounds is not easy. The acts diminish U.S. foreign policy to the level of Mafia thuggery, strip the United States of its claim to lawful conduct, and reduce our prestige
around the world. To be sure, covert violence may be defensible on realpolitik grounds as an appropriate way to deal with international problems.
In Cuba, for instance, the CIA’s “pointless sabotage operations,” in Rhodri Jeffreys-Jones’s words, “only increased Castro’s popularity.” Even when they succeed, these covert acts provide only a short-term fix, keeping people who worry us out of power for a time, but identifying the United States with repressive, undemocratic, unpopular regimes, hence undermining our long-term interests.
Leads to domestic lying
These interventions raise another issue: Are they compatible with democracy?
Covert violent operations against foreign nations, individuals, and political parties violate the openness on which our own democracy relies. Inevitably, covert international interference leads to domestic lying. U.S. citizens cannot possibly critique government policies if they do not know of them. Thus, covert violent actions usually flout the popular will. These actions also threaten our
long-standing separation of powers, which textbooks so justly laud in their chapters on the Constitution. Covert actions are always undertaken by the executive branch, which typically lies to the legislative branch about what it has done and plans to do, thus preventing Congress from playing its constitutionally intended role.
The U.S. government lied about most of the six examples of foreign intervention just described.
Congress must declare war
Our Constitution provides that Congress must declare war. Back in 1918 Woodrow Wilson tried to keep our intervention in Russia hidden from Congress and the American people. Helen Keller helped get out the truth: “Our governments are not honest. They do not openly declare war against Russia and proclaim the reasons,” she wrote to a New York newspaper in 1919. “They are
fighting the Russian people half-secretly and in the dark with the lie of democracy on their lips.”
Ultimately, Wilson failed to keep his invasion secret, but he was able to keep it hidden from American history textbooks. Therein lies the problem: textbooks cannot report accurately on the six foreign interventions described in this chapter without mentioning that the U.S. government covered them up.
Scandals called Watergate
The sole piece of criminal government activity that most textbooks treat is the series of related scandals called Watergate. In its impact on the public, the Watergate break-in stood out. In the early 1970s Congress and the Ameri an people learned that President Nixon had helped cover up a string of illegal acts, including robberies of the Democratic National Committee and the office of
Lewis Fielding, a psychiatrist. Nixon also tried with some success to use the Internal Revenue Service, the FBI, the CIA, and various regulatory agencies to inspire fear in the hearts of his “enemies list” of people who had dared to oppose his policies or his reelection. In telling of Watergate, textbooks blame Richard Nixon, as they should. But they go no deeper.
The problem is structural
Getting rid of Richard Nixon did not solve the problem, however, because the problem is structural, stemming from the vastly increased power of the federal executive bureaucracy. Indeed, in some ways the Iran-Contra scandal of the Reagan and first Bush administrations, a web of secret legal and illegal acts involving the president, vice president, cabinet members, special operatives such
as Oliver North, and government officials in Israel, Iran, Brunei, and elsewhere, showed an executive branch more out of control than Nixon’s.
Since the structural problem in the government has not gone away, it is likely that students will again, in their adult lives, face an out-of-control federal executive pursuing criminal clandestine foreign and domestic policies—indeed, some have argued that the Bush II administration’s post-9/11 behavior amounts to just that.
To inculcate allegiance to our country
Educators and textbook authors seem to want to inculcate the next generation into blind allegiance to our country.
Citizens who embrace the textbook view would presumably support any intervention, armed or otherwise, and any policy, protective of our legitimate national interests or not, because they would be persuaded that all our policies and interventions are on behalf of humanitarian aims. They could never credit our enemies with equal humanity.
This “international good guy” approach is educationally dysfunctional if we seek citizens who are able to think rationally about American foreign policy.
Antagonism toward African Americans
The Federal Bureau of Investigation’s response to the movement’s call was particularly important, since the FBI is the premier national law enforcement agency. The bureau had a long and unfortunate history of antagonism toward African Americans. J. Edgar Hoover and the agency that became the FBI got their start investigating alleged communists during the Woodrow Wilson
administration. Although the last four years of that administration saw more antiblack race riots than any other time in our history.
Ku Klux Klan
Wilson had agents focus on gathering intelligence on African Americans, not on white Americans who were violating blacks’ civil rights. Hoover explained the antiblack race riot of 1919 in Washington, D.C., as due to “the numerous assaults committed by Negroes upon white women.” In that year the agency institutionalized its surveillance of black organizations, not white organizations like the Ku Klux Klan. In the bureau’s early years, there were a few black agents, but by the 1930s Hoover had weeded out all but two. By the early 1960s the FBI had not a single black officer, although Hoover tried to claim it did by counting his chauffeurs.
FBI agents in the South were mostly white Southerners who cared what their white Southern neighbors thought of them and were themselves white supremacists. And although this next complaint is reminiscent of the diner who protested that the soup was terrible and there wasn’t enough of it, the bureau had far too few agents in the South. In Mississippi it had no office at all and relied for its initial reports on local sheriffs and police chiefs, often precisely the people
from whom the civil rights movement sought protection.
Even in the 1960s Hoover remained an avowed white supremacist who thought the 1954 Supreme Court decision outlawing racial segregation in Brown v. Board of Education was a terrible error. He helped Kentucky prosecute a Caucasian civil rights leader, Carl Braden, for selling a house in a white neighborhood to a black family.
Martin Luther King Jr.
In August 1963 Hoover initiated a campaign to destroy Martin Luther King Jr., and the civil rights movement. With the approval of Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, he tapped the telephones of King’s associates, bugged King’s hotel rooms, and made tape recordings of King’s conversations with and about women. The FBI then passed on the lurid details, including photographs, transcripts, and tapes, to Senator Strom Thurmond and other white supremacists, reporters, labor leaders, foundation administrators, and, of course, the president.
The FBI tried to sabotage receptions in King’s honor when he traveled to Europe to claim the Nobel Peace Prize. Hoover called King “the most notorious liar in the country” and tried to prove that the SCLC was infested with communists. King wasn’t the only target: Hoover also passed on disinformation about the Mississippi Summer Project; other civil rights organizations such as CORE (Congress of Racial Equality) and SNCC (Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee); and other civil rights leaders, including Jesse Jackson.
At the same time the FBI refused to pass on to King information about death
threats to him.
Thirty-five shooting incidents
The FBI knew these threats were serious, for civil rightsworkers were indeed being killed. In Mississippi alone, civil rights workers endured more than a thousand arrests at the hands of local officials, thirty-five shooting incidents, and six murders.
Even this helped little: white supremacists bombed thirty homes and burned thirty-seven black churches in the summer of 1964 alone.
After the national outcry prompted by the murders of James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner in Philadelphia, Mississippi, however, the FBI finally opened an office in Jackson. Later that summer, at the 1964 Democratic national convention in Atlantic City, the FBI tapped the phones of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party and Martin Luther King Jr.; in so doing, the bureau was complying with a request from President Lyndon Johnson.
FBI’s attack on black was national
Because I lived and did research in Mississippi, I have concentrated on acts of
the federal government and the civil rights movement in that state, but the FBI’s
attack on black and interracial organizations was national in scope.
State troopers fired on the demonstrators, killing three and wounding twenty-eight, many of them shot in the balls of their feet as they ran away and threw themselves on the ground to avoid the gunfire.
In California, Chicago, and elsewhere in the North, the bureau tried to eliminate the breakfast programs of the Black Panther organization, spread false rumors about venereal disease and encounters with prostitutes to break up Panther marriages, helped escalate conflict between other black groups and the Panthers, and helped Chicago police raid the apartment of Panther leader Fred Hampton and kill him in his bed in 1969.
The FBI warned black leader Stokely Carmichael’s mother of a fictitious Black Panther plot to murder her son, prompting Carmichael to flee the United States.
The murder of Martin Luther King Jr.
It is even possible that the FBI or the CIA was involved in the murder of Martin Luther King Jr. “Raoul” in Montreal, who supplied King’s convicted killer, James Earl Ray, with the alias “Eric Gault,” may have had CIA connections
Colleges and universities
The FBI investigated black faculty members at colleges and universities from Virginia to Montana to California. In 1970 Hoover approved the automatic investigation of “all black student unions and similar organizations organized to project the demands of black students.” The institution at which I taught, Tougaloo College, was a special target: at one point agents in Jackson even proposed to “neutralize” the entire college, in part because its students had sponsored “out-of-state militant Negro speakers, voter-registration drives, and African cultural seminars and lectures . . . [and] condemned various publicized injustices to the civil rights of Negroes in Mississippi.” Obviously high crimesand misdemeanors!
How do American history textbooks treat this legacy?
They simply leave out everything bad the government ever did. They omit not only the FBI’s campaign against the civil rights movement, but also its break-ins and undercover investigations of church groups, organizations promoting changes in U.S. policy in Latin America, and the U.S. Supreme Court.
Textbooks don’t even want to say anything bad about state governments: all sixteen narrative textbooks in my sample include part of Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, but fifteen of them censor his negative comments about the governments of Alabama and Mississippi.
Not only do textbooks fail to blame the federal government for its opposition to the civil rights movement, many actually credit the government, almost single-handedly, for the advances made during the period. In so doing, textbooks follow what we might call the Hollywood approach to civil rights.
Simply the result of good government
The twelve textbooks I studied for the first edition of this book offered a Parker-like analysis of the entire civil rights movement. Like the arrests of the Mississippi Klansmen, advances in civil rights were simply the result of good government. Federal initiative in itself “explained” such milestones as the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. John F. Kennedy proposed them, Lyndon Baines Johnson passed them through Congress, and thus we have them today.
Or, in the immortal passive voice of American History, “Another civil rights measure, the Voting Rights Act, was passed.”
Several textbooks even reversed the time order, putting the bills first, the civil rights
This account reverses leader and led
Challenge of Freedom provided a typical treatment:
«President Kennedy and his administration responded to the call for racial equality. In June 1963 the President asked for congressional action on far-reaching equal rights laws. Following the President’s example, thousands of Americans became involved in the equal rights movement as well. In August 1963 more than 200,000 people took part in a march in Washington, D.C.»
This account reverses leader and led. In reality, Kennedy initially tried to stop the march and sent his vice president to Norway to keep him away from it because he felt Lyndon Johnson was too pro-civil rights. Even Arthur Schlesinger Jr., a Kennedy partisan, has dryly noted that “the best spirit of
Kennedy was largely absent from the racial deliberations of his presidency.”
The damage is not localized to the unfounded boost textbooks give to Kennedy’s reputation. The greater danger comes from removing what scholars call “agency” from African Americans. When describing the attack on segregation that culminated in the 1954 Supreme Court decision, the bestselling old book, Triumph of the American Nation, and one of the bestselling current
books, The American Pageant, make no mention that African Americans were the plaintiffs and attorneys in Brown v. Board of Education or that prior cases also brought by the NAACP prepared the way. The latest Pageant actually claims that the Kennedys—Jack and Robert—prodded SNCC and other civil rights groups to register blacks to vote. All prodding went the other way around!
Desegregation was not the federal government
Today many young African Americans think that desegregation was something the federal government imposed on the black community. They have no idea it was something the black community forced on the federal government.
Meanwhile, many young white Americans can reasonably infer that the federal government has been nice enough to blacks. Crediting the federal government for actions instigated by African Americans and their white allies surely disempowers African American students today, and surely helps them feel that they “have never done anything,” as Malcolm X put it.
The greatest country in the world
Textbook authors seem to believe that Americans can be loyal to their government only so long as they believe it has never done anything bad.
Textbooks therefore present a U.S. government that deserves students’ allegiance, not their criticism. “We live in the greatest country in the world,” wrote James F. Delong, an associate of the right-wing textbook critic Mel Gabler, in his critique of American Adventures. “Any book billing itself as a story of this country should certainly get that heritage and pride across.”
Makes all education suspect
In 1964, 64 percent of Americans still trusted the government to “do the right thing”; thirty years later this proportion had dwindled to just 19 percent. Textbook authors, since they are unwilling to say bad things about the government, come across as the last innocents in America. Their trust is poignant. They present students with a benign government whose statements should be believed. This is hardly the opinion of their parents, who, according to opinion polls, remain deeply skeptical of what leaders in the federal government tell them. To encounter so little material in school about the bad things the government has done, especially when parents and the daily newspaper tell a different story, “makes all education suspect,” according to education researcher Donald Barr.
Servile approach to the government
Nor can the textbook authors’ servile approach to the government teach students to be effective citizens. Just as the story of Columbus-the-wise has as its flip side the archetype of the superstitious unruly crew, so the archetype of a wise and good government implies that the correct role for us citizens is to follow its leadership.
Certainly many political scientists and historians in the United States suggest that governmental actions are a greater threat to democracy than citizen disloyalty. Many worry that the dominance of the executive branch has eroded the checks and balances built into the Constitution.
Mockery of federalism
Some analysts also believe that the might of the federal government vis-à-vis state governments has made a mockery of federalism. From the Woodrow Wilson administration until now, the federal executive has grown ever stronger and now looms as by far our nation’s largest employer. In the last fifty years, the power of the CIA, the National Security Council, and other covert agencies has grown to become, in some eyes, a fearsome fourth branch of government. Threats to democracy abound when officials in the FBI, the CIA, the State Department, and other institutions of government determine not only our policies but also what the people and the Congress need to know about them.
By downplaying covert and illegal acts by the government, textbook authors narcotize students from thinking about such issues as the increasing dominance and secrecy of the executive branch. By taking the government’s side, textbooks encourage students to conclude that criticism is incompatible with citizenship.
Minimize the potential power of the people
And by presenting government actions in a vacuum, rather than as responses to such institutions as multinational corporations and civil rights organizations, textbooks mystify the creative tension between the people and their leaders. All this encourages students to throw up their hands in the belief that the government determines everything anyway, so why bother, especially if its actions are usually so benign. Thus, our American history textbooks minimize the potential power of the pe
ople and, despite their best patriotic efforts, take a stance that is overtly antidemocratic.
See no evil
Choosing not to look at the war in vietnam
If we do not speak of it, others will surely rewrite the
script. Each of the body bags, all of the mass graves
will be reopened and their contents abracadabraed into
a noble cause.
—GEORGE SWIERS, VIETNAM VETERAN
Who fought in the war
On the first day of class in 1989 I gave my students a quiz including the open-ended question, “Who fought in the war in Vietnam?” Almost a fourth of my students said the combatants were North and
South Korea! I was stunned.
U.S. policy and My Lai
In the My Lai massacre American combat troops murdered women, old men, and children. Ronald Haeberle’s photographs, including this one, which ran in Life magazine, seared the massacre into the nation’s consciousness and still affects our culture.
Most Hollywood movies made about Vietnam include My Lai imagery; Platoon offers a particularly vivid example.
Indeed, attacks on civilians were U.S. policy, as shown by Gen. William C. Westmoreland’s characterization of civilian casualties: “It does deprive the enemy of the population, doesn’t it?”
We evaluated our progress by body counts and drew free-fire zones in which the entire civilian population was treated as the enemy. Such a strategy inevitably led to war crimes. Any photograph of an American soldier setting fire to a Vietnamese hootch (house), a common sight during the war, would get this point across, but no textbook shows such an act.
The normal ravage of war
My Lai was the most famous instance of what John Kerry, formerly of Vietnam Veterans Against the War, now U.S. senator, called “not isolated incidents but crimes committed on a day-to-day basis with the full awareness of officers at all levels of command.” Appearing before the
Senate Foreign Relations Committee in April 1971, Kerry said, “Over one hundred and fifty honorably discharged and many very highly decorated veterans testified to war crimes committed in Southeast Asia.”
He went on to retell how American troops “had personally raped, cut off ears, cut off heads, taped wires from portable telephones to human genitals and turned up the power,
cut off limbs, blown up bodies, randomly shot at civilians, razed villages in fashion reminiscent of Genghis Khan, shot cattle and dogs for fun, poisoned food stocks, and generally ravaged the countryside of South Vietnam.” All this was “in addition to the normal ravage of war,” as Kerry pointed out in his testimony.
Never mentions My Lai
Two textbook authors, James West Davidson and Mark H. Lytle, are on record elsewhere as knowing of the importance of My Lai. “The American strategy had atrocity built into it,” Lytle said to me. Davidson and Lytle devote most of a chapter to the My Lai massacre in their book After the Fact. There they tell how news of the massacre stunned the United States. “One thing was
certain,” they write, “the encounter became a defining moment in the public’s perception of the war.”
1Plainly they do not think high school students need to know about it, however, for their high school history textbook, The United States —A History of the Republic, like ten other textbooks in my sample, never mentions My Lai.
Against the war
What against the wa about their prose? Sadly, most textbook authors also leave out all the memorable quotations of the era. No textbook quotes the trademark cadences of Martin Luther King Jr., the first major leader to come out against the war, reproduced at the head of this chapter.
Even more famous was the dissent of Muhammad Ali, then heavyweight boxing champion of the world. Ali refused induction into the military, for which his title was stripped from him, and said,
“No Vietcong ever called me ‘nigger.’ ” All eighteen textbooks leave out that line, too. After the Tet offensive, a U.S. army officer involved in retaking Ben Tre said, “It became necessary to destroy the town to save it.” For millions of Americans, this statement summarized America’s impact on Vietnam. No textbook supplies it.
Nor does any textbook quote John Kerry’s plea for immediate withdrawal: “How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?”
Most books also exclude the antiwar songs, the chants—“Hell, no; we won’t go!” and “Hey, hey, LBJ, how many kids did you kill today?”—and, above all, the emotions. Indeed, the entire antiwar movement becomes unintelligible in many textbooks, because they do not allow it to speak for itself.One period caused events of the next
Since textbooks rarely suggest that the events of one period caused events of the next, unsurprisingly, none of the textbooks I surveyed looks before the 1950s to explain the Vietnam War.
Have a right to knowledge
The lessons of Vietnam” have also been used to inform or mislead discussions about secrecy, the press, how the federal government operates, and even whether the military should admit gays. High school graduates have a right to enough knowledge about the Vietnam War to participate intelligently in such debates. After all, they are the people who will be called upon to fight in our next (and our ongoing) war— whether it resembles Vietnam or not.
Down the memory hole
The disappearanc of te recent past
We see things not as they are but as we are.
Patriotism can flourish only where racism and
nationalism are given no quarter. We should never
mistake patriotism for nationalism. A patriot is one who
loves his homeland. A nationalist is one who scorns the
homelands of others.
Of course the people do not want war. . . . But, after all,
it is the leaders of the country who determine the
policy, and it is always a simple matter to drag the
people along, whether it is a democracy, a fascist
dictatorship, a parliament, or a communist
dictatorship. Voice or no voice, the people can always
be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy.
All you have to do is tell them that they are being
attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of
—GERMAN FIELD MARSHALL HERMANN GOERING, NUREMBERG, APRIL 18,
MANY AFRICAN SOCIETIES divide humans into three categories: those still alive on the earth, the sasha, and the zamani. The recently departed whose time on earth overlapped with people still here are the sasha, the living-dead. They are not wholly dead, for they still live in the memories of the living, who can call them to mind, create their likeness in art, and bring them to life in anecdote.
When the last person to know an ancestor dies, that ancestor leaves the sasha for the zamani, the dead
Especially if we are reading for the first time about an event, we have little ground on which to stand and criticize what we read.
Authors of American history textbooks appear all too aware of the sasha—of the fact that teachers, parents, and textbook adoption board members were alive in the recent past. They seem uncomfortable with it. Revering the zamani— generalized ancestors—is more their style. By definition, the world of the sasha is controversial, because readers bring to it their own knowledge and understanding, so they may not agree with what is written. Therefore, the less said about the recent past, the better.
Myth of Reconstruction
The Confederate myth of Reconstruction first permeated the historical literature during the nadir of race relations, from 1890 to 1940, and hung on in textbooks until the 1960s. Reconstruction regimes came to be portrayed as illegitimate and corrupt examples of “Negro domination.” Now historians have returned to the view of Reconstruction put forth in earlier histories, written while
Republican governments still administered the Southern states.
The most important
I concluded that among the most important issues of the past decade were the terrorist attacks
of 9/11/2001, our response in Afghanistan, and our (second) war against Iraq. Far more than the Clinton impeachment, for example, these three events promise to impact our lives in the future. What do textbooks say about them? What should they say?
What about the “why” question, which today’s students do needto contemplate? In its teacher’s edition, Holt makes clea that “why” is not something teachers should address: Tell students that in this section they will learn about the attacks of September 11, 2001, their ec nomic and socia onsequences, and the response by Americans and the U.S. government.” Pathwa s to the Pr sent and Boorstin and Kelley also ignore the “why” question. The Americans blurs ny causal investigation by adding in terrorist acts by the Irish Republican Army, Peru’s Shining Path movement, and Japan’s religious cult, Aum Shinrikyo.
Terrorists attacked us
The notion that terrorists attacked us because of our values, our freedoms, or our dedication to world peace is self-serving but shallow and inaccurate. Such thinking might be termed nationalist but is hardly patriotic, to follow the distinction made by Johannes Rau at the head of this chapter. Nationalism does not encourage us to critique our country and seek its betterment. Therefore,
nationalism serves us only in the short run. In the long run, our nation needs citizens who question its policies rather than blindly saluting them. Indeed, knowledgeable Americans pointed this out to journalist James Fallows, who summarized in Atlantic Monthly: “The soldiers, spies, academics, and diplomats
I have interviewed are unanimous in saying that ‘They hate us for who we are’ is dangerous claptrap.” Fallows himself called the idea that they hate us for who we are “lazily self-justifying and self-deluding.” Michael Scheuer, first chief of the CIA’s bin Laden unit, agreed:
Bin Laden has been precise in telling America the reasons he is waging
war on us. None of the reasons have anything to do with our freedom,
liberty, and democracy, but have everything to do with U.S. policies and
actions in the Muslim world.
In November 2004, confirmation of this view came from an interesting source: a
Pentagon report that pointed out “Muslims do not ‘hate our freedom,’ but rather
they hate our policies.” If we took this sentence seriously, we might question or
change our policies in the Middle East. Bush’s analysis—and most textbooks’
avoidance of any analysis—stifles such thought.
Hard to question our foreign policy
Textbooks find it hard to question our foreign policy because from beginning to end they typically assume the America as “international good guy” model we noted in Chapter 8. Consider the first page of Pathways to the Present, for example, which introduces history as a “them ” (along with geography, economics, etc.). Here is every word it supplies students about “history as a theme”:
Fighting for Freedom and Democracy: Throughout the nation’s history, Amer cans have risked their lives to protect their freedoms and to fight
for democracy both at home and abroad. Use the American Pathways
feature on pages 410-411 to help you trace specific events in the struggle
to protect and defend these cherished ideas.
Conspicuously absent are images
Conspicuously absent are images from our centuries of warfare against Native Americans, the Mexican War, Philippines War, or any other conflict that cannot be shoehorned into the
classification “to fight for democracy both at home and abroad.” Our longest war —Vietnam—rates not even a mention. To be sure, some of our military engagements—our 1999 intervention in Serbia-Kosovo, perhaps, or World War II—might fit under the “international good guy” rubric. Others—the Seminole Wars, the Philippines War—cannot. When authors blandly treat our military
history under the heading “Fighting for Freedom and Democracy,” they merel
signal students that they will not be presenting a serious analysis. In the middle of A History of the United States, right after describing the end of our war against Vietnam, Boorstin and Kelley send students a similar signal:
“Still a superpower, the United States could not avoid some responsibility for
keeping peace in the world. Since the American Revolution, the nation had
served as a beacon of hope for people who wanted to govern themselves.”
Apparently students are not supposed to have noticed that the United States had just spent a decade making war, not “keeping peace,” precisely to deny the Vietnamese the ability “to govern themselves.” Such “analysis” makes it hard to understand why anyone would attack a peacekeeper, “a beacon of hope.”
The very last paragraph in Appleby, Brinkley, and McPherson’s The American Journey provides the most egregious example of all:
The United States spent the last decade of the twentieth century trying to
increase the peace and prosperity of the world. Many Americans still
believed that their nation should serve as an example to the world. As
President Clinton explained in his 1997 State of the Union address:
“America must continue to be an unrelenting force for peace—from the
Middle East to Haiti . . .”
The recommended book
Lies My Teacher Told Me
Book: -Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong (James Loewen)