I’ve been feeling incredibly lazy of late, so today I’ll just post something that I wrote in a discussion board of the website Nonviolence.org:
U.S. history is, in general, disseminated through a peculiar, yet quite consistent, lens of distortion. In short, we tend to emphasize the historical facts that make us feel better about ourselves, while omitting, truncating, or lying about the facts that might cast our past in an unfavorable light. For example, this past weekend I was at the natural history museum in Iowa City. One of the dioramas was dedicated to the Ioway tribe of Native Americans. Among other things, the text of the display mentioned how at one point the Ioway “lost their land” and “were forced” to move to a reservation further west. Did the Ioway all simultaneously go on vacation and somehow forget where they lived? Did a huge tornado pick them all up and drop them in Wyoming? The use of the passive voice in the diorama allowed the authors to paint a tragic picture using few words, but it also allowed them to evade an important part of the truth: who or what was responsible for the Ioway’s “loss” of their ancestral land? Who or what “forced” them to move further west, and why?
I imagine all of the schoolchildren who must walk past this diorama; I wonder how many schoolchildren open their history textbooks and find the passive voice used for just about every negative thing that ever happened in the history of the U.S. (e.g. the negroes “were enslaved,” the Indians “died” or “relocated” to reservations). Couldn’t this be considered distortion? In a society that preaches individual responsibility, what is accomplished by teaching effect without cause?
Sadly, the ever-consolidating corporate news media have adopted this method of reporting on events and ideas, as well. For example, the Iraqi protesters weren’t gunned down by U.S. troops. They “were killed in the confusion.” Saddam Hussein went from being a thuggish errand boy to being the powerful dictator of an oil-rich nation. Did he do it all by himself, or did he have help from the outside? Many of us who post on this board are aware of the complexity of world affairs, and of our government’s involvement in those affairs (past and present).
I’m afraid that too many U.S. citizens, who as citizens of a supposedly open democracy are supposed to educate themselves about and be vigilant of the workings of their government, choose not to hold up their end, and allow themselves to be hoodwinked into believing that Saddam Hussein, for example, was responsible for the 9/11 attacks. It comes as no surprise, then, that anything resembling truth can seem like a distortion to these people.