Revisionist history makes us feel good. This is true on a national level as Vladimir Putin is doing with Russian history books by scrubbing Stalin’s flaws along with crimes of the USSR. It happens in America when liberals pat themselves on the back, painting conservative leaders as bumbling or evil in school textbooks—or ignoring them altogether—while extolling their own heroes. It is also true in our personal relationship to historical events.
When we read of the Underground Railroad in the mid 1800’s in the United States or of those who sheltered Jews in the Nazi era, we picture those people as our soulmates. Surely, we would have taken a stand were we living at that time!
We cannot, of course, know the truth, but armchair history has the advantage of letting ourselves be heroes while taking no risks. Some of those who assisted runaway slaves had their houses burnt down; some of those who assisted Jews themselves ended up in concentration camps. Heroism, by definition, comes with an unspecified price tag. The amount only gets filled in after the deed.
There is such a thing as time and money heroism as well. Those of us not cut out to put our lives on the line or not in a position to do so, sometimes put our livelihoods at risk. In the world of gay rights bullying, shop owners and county clerks are finding themselves in that situation today. Other times, individuals place their own lives second to a cause, fighting with their energy, time and finances.
On a lesser level, but still vitally important, each of us has relatively low-cost opportunities to support the heroism of others. I may not be able to stop President Obama’s disastrous plans, but have I at least called my congressional representatives to tell them how I feel about the proposed Iran deal? I may not enlist to fight ISIS but have I supported those who are helping persecuted Yazidi and Christian girls in northern Iraq and Syria? (here’s a second example) Have I sent a contribution or written a note of support to those who are paying the price of convictions that I share or to legal groups who assist them? Do I even bother voting?
In my own life, the answer to some of my above questions is yes and to others it is no. Like you, my life is busy, sometimes overwhelmingly so. The list of worthwhile causes and activities is endless. Attempting to do too much usually means doing nothing. Nevertheless, by picturing myself as a future armchair historian and asking myself twenty years down the road, “What did you do to stop evil in 2015,” I hope to push myself to do just a little bit more.
8 thoughts on “Revisionist Heroism”
Lora, I love this. How wonderful that you take advantage of the position you are in with young people. I think that learning how to say enough but not too much is a great skill that would benefit many of us. Getting people (of all ages) to question their assumptions and think rather than trying to change their minds is so important. The rest will flow.
Hillsdale College regularly prints a mail flyer of sorts that has some speech or other in it, and I get these in the mail. I really look forward to them. The latest issue talks about history and culture. The other day my 15 yr old asked, “Where’s the Imprimis? I haven’t read it yet.” and after she had had a chance to read it, she wanted to discuss the topic. She said this among other things: “I knew about Robespierre from classic lit, not school.”
Sometimes when I have the chance, I plant questions in the minds of young students who are trudging through their public school environment. I find some of them have a dawning that comes to them as they consider a question that the school would never have suggested. Sometimes one will pick up a book or ask a question or learn a new perspective. Many young kids want to know Truth; they just want someone to point them in the right direction. Learning to couch a question in youth-talk can be half the challenge. Timing it for when they appear to be receptive is an ordeal. But when their eyes light up, or they suddenly realize that some assumption was faulty and maybe even harmful, and questions flood their face as they look on in surprise at themselves: this is beautiful. Just beautiful.
This is one thing that I try and do.
And I highly value your Musings and the Thought Tools. Try to comment when I can…
James, I always appreciate your comments.
In today’s climate being willing to state your views openly takes its own form of bravery. I know many people who stay quiet rather than be viewed negatively by colleagues and relatives.
Very well said, indeed! As a famous someone once said: ‘History is written by the victors.’ This is supposed to mean: he who wins the war writes down what happened. But just like your famous AJW quote of Shelley’s poem Ozymandias: ‘Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!’ The monument, broken and fallen in the empty sands, was merely an exercise in self-aggrandizement.
But too much history of today is being rewritten not by winners, but by LOSERS. These are social engineers with an agenda like Josef Goebbels, who said that ‘a lie repeated often enough becomes accepted as truth.’ As for the war against evil, do not fail to remember the impact of Susan’s Musings: one cannot do the math or even predict the math, but it must be safe to assume that for every reader that comments, there might be 3-4000 readers who read and absorb it. Please continue and keep up the good work.
[As for lying on a resume, there is an even worse danger. So many times an applicant is urged to apply online. And a series of multiple choice questions are presented, where it must be either A, B, C, or D. What if the real answer is ‘none of the above?’ But applicants are forced to choose the best answer. All answers will be scrutinized against the truth, and I actually believe the overriding focus of HR is not to find a candidate, but rather to EXCLUDE candidates. Numerus clausus is an ugly phrase. Was it invented by Caligula?]
I needed to hear this….I think mostly where I do make a stand against the evils of this world is Facebook , where most of my relatives have deleted me ! Yes, I am tough , right ? I see myself as the likes of a Corrie TenBoom , in my own imagination….but the reality , not so much ,just many good intentions . I watch you and your husband on TV semi- regularly, and I learn so much , Thank You! I am a Christian, but it has helped me to understand some things about the Old Testament much better , so often in my weekly Bible study ( we study Old and New ,unusual for some Christians), many of the ladies just feel they dislike the God of the Old Testament ,that He is harsh , and unloving. I think it goes along with this post about history , not understanding history also gives it a revisionist twist . Karen
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