History That Needs Revising
Historical revisionism challenges conventional views about events and personalities. It encourages debate. It encourages thinking. And it forces those who write or teach conventional history to defend their views with facts rather than ideology.
Sadly, the American professoriate clings to conventional views — most, if not all, of which are liberal or leftist. The media, meanwhile, reinforces the conventional view with largely superficial observations of historical events and figures. This leads, unfortunately, to a one-size-fits-all history where the heroes are all liberals, the villains are mostly conservative, and events are portrayed to fit within the liberal narrative.
Consider some prominent examples. Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR) is commonly judged to be a “great” president for launching the New Deal during the Great Depression and leading the United States to victory in World War II. While FDR is mostly praised for expanding the power of the federal government to help the American people cope with the economic downturn, seldom do you hear from critics who contend that Roosevelt’s policies actually lengthened and deepened the Great Depression.
Similarly, most portrayals of FDR as a great war leader downplay, if they mention at all, his responsibility (shared with Congress) for America’s unpreparedness for war prior to and for sometime after Pearl Harbor. Historians also seldom take him to task for his careless and costly unconcern about communist infiltration of the government (some at the highest levels) in the 1930s and early 1940s. While it is true that there is more criticism of his appeasement of Stalin toward the end of the war, this is often attributed to his failing health — which he and his advisers deliberately hid from the American people.
FDR 'great?' He was deceitful and deceptive
The “great” Franklin Roosevelt was in truth a deceitful and deceptive man both in his personal life and, more importantly, in his public life. General Douglas MacArthur once remarked about FDR that he was a man “who would never tell the truth when a lie would serve him just as well.”
Compare the common historical treatment of FDR to Richard Nixon. Nixon, we are endlessly told, was a “disgraced” president who lied to the American people and engaged in a massive cover-up of criminal activities. Watergate, we are told, was the greatest scandal in the history of the American Presidency. In fact, Watergate was at most a rather routine example of political espionage gone awry — political espionage that FDR, John F. Kennedy, and Lyndon Johnson did not hesitate to engage in. Nixon’s resignation, as Paul Johnson pointed out, was the result of a liberal media coup aided by a disgruntled high-level FBI official, pro-Kennedy special prosecutors, opportunistic Democrats in Congress, and spineless Republican legislators. Nixon, too, was blamed for a divisive war in Southeast Asia that his liberal Democratic predecessors started but failed to win.
Truman vs. MacArthur in Korean War
Another example of conventional liberal history is Truman vs. MacArthur in the Korean War. President Harry Truman is commonly applauded by historians for his courageous decision to relieve MacArthur of command in Korea and thereby prevent World War III. MacArthur is portrayed as imperious, egotistical, insubordinate, dangerous, and just plain wrong on the merits of the dispute over how to wage war in Korea. Truman, of course, was willing to bask in the general’s glory after the brilliant landing at Inchon in September 1950. Truman was more than willing to tolerate MacArthur as long as America was winning the war. Most historians blame MacArthur’s actions in North Korea for forcing China to enter the war, but MacArthur did nothing before China entered the war that he was not authorized to do by the Truman administration. Truman’s Asia policy as a whole was disastrous, but the liberal takeaway is that he saved us from World War III.
Perhaps nowhere is the liberal historical view more monolithic than its portrayal of Senator Joseph McCarthy and what became known as “McCarthyism.” The 1950s, we are told, was a decade of fear and “witch hunts,” all due to the conduct of McCarthy and his efforts to reveal communists within the government and other prominent institutions. McCarthy is sometimes blamed for persecuting the famed “Hollywood Ten,” writers and directors who invoked the Fifth Amendment when asked if they had ever been communists, and who refused to “name names” of their communist associates. In fact, Senator McCarthy had no involvement whatsoever in investigating the Hollywood Ten — that was done by the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), and all of the Hollywood Ten were communists.
McCarthy is accused of engaging in a “reign of terror” by leveling false accusations of communism against innocent government employees. Seldom do you hear that most of the people that McCarthy specifically identified as potential security risks were communists, fellow travelers, agents of influence, dupes, or at least sympathetic to the communist cause. The Venona Papers — released in the 1990s — demonstrated that McCarthy underestimated the extent of communist infiltration of our government.
Maybe we should rethink JFK, Coolidge, too
Other examples would include the mostly favorable treatment of John F. Kennedy, the mostly unfavorable treatment of Calvin Coolidge, the favorable portrayal of the Great Society programs and the counter-culture of the 1960s, the unfavorable treatment of Ronald Reagan’s attempts to modestly revise the Great Society programs, and the repeated efforts to attribute the end of the Cold War to Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev instead of President Reagan.
The examples are endless. Fortunately, there are courageous historians and writers — Amity Shlaes, Arthur Herman, Paul Johnson, David Horowitz, and the late M. Stanton Evans and Robert Nisbet come immediately to mind — who are/were unafraid to let the facts speak for themselves; who have willingly challenged the historical orthodoxy; who have dared to expose long-held shibboleths; who have recognized that historical revisionism can often bring us closer to the truth. Their views may be unpopular, but they should never be censored or silenced.
Censorship is once again a topic of discussion, as some social media outlets have decided to censor views that differ from the liberal narrative — and did so, moreover, in the middle of a presidential election. The Founding Fathers cherished political speech and sought to protect it. They welcomed a contest of ideas. Revisionist history at its best is a contest of ideas. It, too, is to be welcomed and cherished.