The other side of history



Tom Barrett

Ever since our early childhoods, we have been told that we live in this ongoing narrative called history. Throughout this tale, we learn about the many times we, the heroes, have gone into battle against the evil forces of the world. But has our history really been this black and white?

Everyone knows the story about how our country came to be. Chris Columbus led the way over here for the Pilgrims to follow a century later. They landed at Plymouth Rock, and they met some Indians. They ate turkey and corn together and became friends. Then, one day, they weren’t friends anymore, but there were lots of colonies. Parents never tell their children where all the Native Americans went. Children are expected to assume that, one day, millions of American Indians just disappeared – the fact that we ended up claiming all their land is never worth mentioning.

Let’s skip ahead a couple hundred years to the middle of the 18th century and the Civil War. Children are told that the freedom-loving Union fighters bravely battled the oppressive Southern Confederate inbred slave owners who loved the institution of slavery so much that they were willing to sacrifice hundreds of thousands of American lives. They aren’t told that what the Southerners were really fighting for was states’ rights to operate without the excessive imposition of an overarching federal government.

Take a much more recent example. During the Iraq-Iran war in the 1980s, we played Iraq and Iran against each other in order to gain stronger influence in the region. Then, once that was over and Iraq was buried in debt, Kuwait threatened to flood the world’s oil market, which would essentially cripple the Iraqi economy. When Hussein wanted to intervene, the United States quietly assured him that it was an Arab-Arab conflict and not of concern to the American government. Well, we all know what happened there.

How about the fact that we helped finance the training and equipping of thousands of Islamist radicals in Afghanistan to oust the Soviet-supported Afghan government?

The point here is not to say that slavery should still be allowed or that maybe Hussein wasn’t such a bad guy after all. It should be pretty obvious that both of those statements are completely absurd. Rather, the argument here is something more broad. As the cliché goes, “The winners write the history books.” Most of the time, only half the story is being told, and what good does that do anyone?

Why do we prefer that children receive this sugarcoated watered-down fairy tale disguised as reality? Are we afraid that they will come to the realization that the world, and our country in particular, is less than perfect? If that’s the case, then the sooner they realize that, the better.

The United States is a great country, but you’re kidding yourself if you don’t see that it’s far from perfection. We have to realize that just because our predecessors have done some less-than-honorable things does not mean that they were bad people, but instead they were just people trying to survive and prosper.

Remember, the first step to curing the problem is admitting there is one. The fact that we’ve made mistakes in the past should only be more reason to learn from them so we aren’t doomed to repeat them.


Tom Barrett is a junior philosophy major from Colonia, N.J. He can be reached at [email protected].