History, as they say, is written by the victors.
STORYTELLING IS AN ART. MORE THAN a mere recitation of facts or events, it is the painting of picture that becomes etched in the mind of the reader. Sometimes it’s fun, sometimes it’s serious, and sometimes it’s life changing.
Rarely, however, is it true. In an empirical sense, anyway. Oh, sure, the individual facts that make up the story might each be true when taken by itself, just as the pixels on your screen are definitively red, blue, and green. Yet that is not what you see; you see 256 million distinct colors that are not really there.
So it is with a story that is woven together into a tapestry that little resembles its component threads. And such works of art, whether awe-inspiring or grotesque, have the power to move people, to inspire and motivate them; indeed, to shape who they are.
Nowhere is this more the case than with history; in particular, the history we are taught from textbooks. In the United States, as elsewhere, school curricula are designed to instill in children the system of beliefs to which their parents subscribe. Invariably there is an element of nationalism in the histories children are taught. What nation, or parent, does not want to be seen as a victor in the eyes of their children?
It is only when we grow older and learn to ask questions for ourselves that we begin to glimpse other points of view on the things we’ve taken for granted our whole lives. Under the scrutiny of that inquiry, our former beliefs can look pretty naive and simplistic.
What follows is a summary of U.S. history as it was taught to me in school.
1492: Everybody living thought the Earth was flat. Christopher Columbus, a smart Italian kid who knew better, got Spain to pay him to sail around the globe and prove them all wrong. Columbus, thinking he had landed in India—but actually discovered a new land that didn’t belong to anybody—called the people he met there Indians.
1620: A mean English king treated devout Christians badly merely for their belief in God, so they sailed from England to Columbus’s unowned land and claimed it as their new home. They invited the Indians over for a harvest pot-luck and treated everyone as equals.
1620–onward: The ungrateful Indians began attacking innocent families for no good reason other than to rob them when they had tamed the land and become productive citizens. Cowboys were often called upon to rescue the innocents from the threat and became expert marksmen, who killed the nasty Indians.
1770’s: Americans, who believed in freedom and equality for everyone, were a productive and self-sufficient people who were increasingly abused and neglected by the mean English king, but he still collected taxes from them.
1776: When the price of tea rose to unacceptable levels, the hardworking people rebelled and refused to pay their taxes. The mean king sent regiments of Redcoats to subdue them; these soldiers were so stupid they always marched in formation, even when they were being shot at by the oppressed American snipers (aka Minutemen), and were eventually defeated because God always sides with the righteous.
1812: The War of 1812. Some brief but inconsequential skirmish with Brits who were still in denial 30 years after losing America. It was fought by proxy using Canadians, who are so harmless that most Americans didn’t even know there was a war on. The only damage was a fire at the White House, where Dolly Madison rescued historic paintings.
1914–1918: Europeans got in terrible fight over who owned which parts of the continent and America had to go sort it all out, losing hundreds of thousands of men, for which the Europeans owed us for life. It was mostly the Germans’ fault, but Serbia started it.
1942–1945: Europeans went at it again, but this time it was definitely the Germans’ fault. America told England and France to take care of it, but they were too inept, and America finally had to sacrifice “the Greatest Generation” to rescue them again. We remade Germany in our own image, a true, freedom-loving democracy, albeit one that couldn’t be trusted to have a military force. We let the Russians help and take some of the credit so they’d be our friends.
1945–1992: Europe was forever grateful to America, and owed us big time, but Russia didn’t want to be our friend. They wanted to take over the world, destroy the United States, and make Europe their slave. They were the Devil incarnate, and God required us to vanquish them. Because they stole our groundbreaking (literally) technology and built nuclear weapons, we could not bomb them. We had to outspend them on weapons to bring them to their knees.
1992: We won. God was on our side.
2001: In the absence of a monolithic Soviet power to use against us, Satan raised up a ragtag group of Muslims, who hated America simply because we had freedom. Because they could hide anywhere and strike at any time without warning, we needed to be prepared to invade any country where they lived and slaughter them “pre-emptively.”
2014: We are all much safer now because our freedom-loving government monitors everything we say and do—phone calls, emails, web-searches, bank accounts, library books—to weed out evil Muslims and Americans who are friendly with them.
There is no challenge today that America can’t overcome, except perhaps the intransigence of the political party that is not my own. Go team!