Historical ignorance and bias

An ill-educated person behaves with arrogant impatience, whereas truly profound education breeds humility.

__ Credited to Alexander Solzhenitsyn

 

Washington Post columnist E. J. Dionne begins a recent commentary with some patriotic platitudes and ends with arrogant impatience. He writes, “we (Americans) are as badly fractured in approaching history as we are in confronting the present.”

Actually, I would say that we are seriously split on facing the present because of our lack of understanding history—or, more precisely, because of our ignorance of American history.

Mr. Dionne tries on his patriot hat: “…put aside our divisions to celebrate (July 4th) a shared love for our country (but only his part of the country); …we need to nourish this capacity for empathy (but only for certain people he approves of); …rally around the core idea of the Declaration of Independence (but only the idea as it relates history to his current biases).

Then, Dionne lurches into historical mythology. “We fought the Civil War over the question of who was included in the (Declaration of Independence) phrase ‘all men are created equal.’” He is, however, correct to preface this statement with, “But this is precisely where our disagreements about (this) history start.” Yes, they do.

This unnecessary war was vastly more complex than Dionne’s simplistic, misguided thinking reveals: It was about radical, violent abolitionists; new States admitting slavery; high tariffs proposed on Southern trade; excessive central government power; invasion of sovereign States with military force; and a long history of disputes over rights of State citizens versus the growing abuses of federal government.

Many books by independent historians and Southern scholars have been written explaining these and other causes of Lincoln’s war on the Confederate States of America.

Notice that Confederates also considered themselves Americans, but free and independent of the original Union because of its totalitarian abuses against them. Most important, they fought bravely for years against an enemy that waged war on civilians and destroyed everything in its path, including the homes and livelihoods of Negros who were presumed to be “emancipated,” but who Yankees cared little about. Lincoln wanted to ship them all back to Africa.

Dionne went to New Orleans to celebrate Mayor Mitch Landrieu taking down Confederate monuments. He wanted readers to learn about Landrieu’s “exposition”—underscoring “how important it is to see history accurately and not how we might wish it to be.”

Of course, that’s exactly what Landrieu did. He has disdain for Confederate leaders who, even Northerners respected until at least 100 years after the war. He and Dionne believe the Confederacy was “a cult.” Its goal, they say, was “to rewrite history to hide the truth, which is that the Confederacy was on the wrong side of humanity.” And they are on the wrong side of history.

To their distorted thinking Confederate monuments prove their “truth”—“The Confederacy brought back to life as a so-called noble cause to rationalize the post-Reconstruction regime of white supremacy.”

Applying these modern views to long ago conditions, values and culture is a serious error in rational thinking. But, of course, they can’t get past the idea of slavery, so bitterly embedded in their irrational thoughts that they aren’t able to accept it in context with the humanity of the times. They lack humility and respect for fellow Americans.

It’s pitifully sad that people such as Dionne and Landrieu are so vengeful and hate filled as to want to deprive others—who have done nothing to them—of memories of their ancestral American heroes and history; and even their American flags.

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About R. E. Smith Jr.

Mr. Smith writes essays and commentary on politics, American history, environment, higher education and culture. He's been published in print media and at blog sites for about 25 years. Smith's formal education includes B.S. and M.S. degrees from the State University of New York and Syracuse University. He has earned a 21-credit hour Certificate in Professional Writing from the University of North Carolina-Wilmington. Training/work experience: NYS Ranger School; U. S. Army, Corp of Engineers; soil scientist and forester with USDA; Assoc. Professor at SUNY; real estate agent; small business owner.
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