March 10, 2017

Cornucopia / Cynthia Dewes

Apparently, history today is not the history we remember

Cynthia DewesDid you know that the Holocaust never happened? Or that the very idea of it is just the product of a conspiracy to make us embrace the hateful Jews, or fear for our safety or whatever?

This is an example of revisionist history. It’s when people revise history to suit their own agenda, or just because they’re ignorant of the facts. Whatever the cause, revisionist history is a disservice to all of us because it is entirely negative and won’t help us going forward.

They say that people who ignore history are doomed to repeat it. And if the only history we know is a revision of what really happened, we can’t choose the best course of action. The apocryphal “they” also say that history is written by the victors. Unless the victors are careful, this can also be a revisionist version.

The problem is, despite our access to all kinds of information because of advanced technology, revisionist history is constantly being delivered to us as fact. We know this because some of us were actually alive to witness the events in question.

As an example, consider the public attitude toward dropping the atom bomb on Japan to end World War II. No one we knew or read about or heard of, including our allies, complained about this event at the time. That’s because we all knew the Japanese believed in fighting until the last man was standing. We understood that, even if we had invaded Japan to put an end to it, the ensuing slaughter on both sides would have been horrendous and unsatisfactory.

Today, we think we should not have dropped the bomb because of the tremendous damage it did to generations of Japanese civilians. We say the end did not justify the means we used. We were so shocked by the event that we vowed never to use atomic weapons again.

But, that was then. And there were reasons to take this action, if not excuses. With the possible exception of Robert Oppenheimer, most people did not realize the terrible destruction unleashed by such a weapon, including the long-term effects on both the Japanese and us. To this day, people suffer the physical and emotional problems caused by the bomb. Not only that, we believed technological advances would always be for the good.

We are called to make good moral decisions and try to follow God’s will. Of course, both the Holocaust and dropping the bomb could not be God’s will. But we are human, and we have the free will to err which, unfortunately, we do big time now and then.

But beating ourselves up over past mistakes can be revisionist, also. Even when we try to do the right thing for the right reasons, we can and do get it wrong. Again, this does not excuse the behavior, but it explains why it happened … then. We need to learn from this history, and do better in the future.

Even when we didn’t live through certain events which come into question later, we have sources to use to learn factual history and dismiss what is revisionist hindsight. There are all kinds of revisions: Jesus was really married, probably to Mary Magdalene, or vaccinations cause autism.

Some are ridiculous and most cannot be proven. Truth always lies somewhere in the middle in human understanding. So my advice is, just keep praying, and relax. God is in charge.

(Cynthia Dewes, a member of St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Greencastle, is a regular columnist for The Criterion.)

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