The future as pre-written past; or the Left’s peculiar relationship to “history” *UPDATED*

John F Kennedy before assassination

To me, history is what was.  It’s the past that’s been and gone forever.

To people on the Left, however, history is the future that they shape, which they presume their Leftist scholars will later enshrine in propagandistic history books.  I thought of that peculiar viewpoint last night when watching a PBS special about the JFK assassination, an event that doesn’t interest me at all. The most interesting thing about it is a conspiracy theorist’s kerfuffle in its wake.  As for me, I believe in a single gunman acting out a Communist fantasy because, today’s Leftist belief to the contrary, Kennedy was a fierce anti-Communist.

The PBS show wasn’t a bad show, and did lay to rest some of the conspiracy theories, but mostly I struggled to stay awake.  What did catch my attention was Jim Lehrer’s statement that the assassination “changed history forever.”

Thing about that statement for a minute and marvel at its incoherence.  An ordinary person would say that the assassination changed the trajectory America was on as of November 22, 1963.  But it didn’t change what happened before November 22, 1963 which was actual history.  Moroever, at the moment the assassination happened, what was left was the future, not “future history.”

It was with Lehrer’s nonsensical words ringing in my mind that I read Daniel Greenfield’s “The Left Side of History,” which explains the Obama’s leftist habit of seeing history, not as a look back to the past, but as a forcibly created future:

“As frustrating as may be sometimes,” Obama told ObamaCare navigators and volunteers. “We’re on the right side of history.”

It wasn’t the first time that Obama had invoked the right side of history to rally the troops. During the Arab Spring, as Mubarak resigned on his orders, he said, “History will end up recording that at every juncture in the situation in Egypt, that we were on the right side of history.”

It’s hard to be on the right side of history at every juncture. But Obama believed that he had achieved the feat by backing Mubarak, then backing his overthrow and then backing the Muslim Brotherhood.

Read the rest here, and see if you can get a handle on the way the Left views the future as the pre-written past.

UPDATE: Like me, Joseph Epstein doesn’t get the “Kennedy wallow” either.  It’s especially silly when one considers that the Left is fetishizing a tax-cutting, communist-hating, Catholic-worshipping, and black-disliking president.  And thinking about the facts versus the fantasy, I guess we’re just getting another insight into the Left’s idea of reality versus those actual stubborn facts.

The main peril of factory education: boredom

(I made the following comments in this morning’s newsletter, and a friend suggested that they’re good enough to be in a stand-alone post.  Incidentally, if you’re interested in getting the reasonably daily Bookworm Room newsletter, you can sign up here.)

I’ve been working with some students helping them to review for the first semester AP European History exam.  I know British history extremely well, and the rest of European history fairly well.  This means that, when the students have questions, I usually have answers.

The problem I’m having is with the picayune nature of the questions.  History is a wonderful, fascinating, lively story, one that reaches back into time and up into the present.  It’s a brilliant tapestry on which individuals both small and great play out their destinies.  History is the best novel and the most exciting movie.  Except . . . that’s certainly not the way these students are learning it.

Savery Steam Engine

Instead, the kids are condemned to memorize both important events and isolated factoids that might make them stars on Jeopardy.  This factual relativism, which attempts to raise the mundane to the same level as the significant, wastes time and utterly fails to teach historical trends or inspire any love for the subject.  Being required to memorize the names of the three men whose work brought about the steam engine that powered the industrial revolution (Savery, Newcomen, and Watt) is infinitely less interesting and to the point than understanding about a society’s energy needs, and then seeing the wonders of the way in which harnessing energy brought about the Industrial Revolution.

The study questions reminded me, painfully, of a never-to-be-forgotten-or-forgiven test I took back in a 9th grade English class.  Although we hadn’t read Moby Dick, one of the questions asked us to identify the book’s author.  The four choices were:

Moby Dick book cover

a.  William Shakespeare
b.  Nathaniel Hawthorne
c.  Herbert Melville
d.  Herman Melville

I knew Melville wrote the book.  I knew his first name started with an “H.”  And I guessed the wrong H-name, which lowered my test grade from an A to a B.  It wasn’t a big deal (I still got an A in the class), but I’ve never gotten over the injustice of that stupid question.  Rather than testing knowledge, it tested almost meaningless minutiae.

That was more than thirty years ago, but public schools are still obsessed with the meaningless, even as they’re incapable of giving color and life to the things that matter.  How frustrating for the students.

I can only hope that my blog’s content today is more interesting and more useful than the stuff they’re teaching in the schools.

I may not know much about history, but I don’t mess with it either

Whew!  That was a long drive home.  We got caught in traffic jams caused by two accidents, so we got to spend an extra couple of hours in the car.  Still, better to sit around because of an accident than to be in an accident.  I’ve done both and prefer the former.

While we were driving, we let the kids watch “Miracle on 34th Street,” which is always charming.  We spent most of the drive though, listening to a book on CD: Kenneth C. Davis’ Don’t Know Much About History: Everything You Need to Know About American History but Never Learned.

It was an interesting book, in that it was honest about the facts (although Davis did buy the story about smallpox infected blankets, a story I understand to be a Howard Zinn fraud), but he couldn’t resist Left-wing editorializing, even when his editorial asides didn’t mesh with the facts.  For example, in the section about why the British lost the colonies, his set-up was that they lost it for precisely the same reason that the Americans lost in Vietnam.  In some respects, he was correct — a far-away enemy making logistics challenging, weak support at home, and the fact that the enemy used new tactics while the larger force (Britain/America) was still using its successful tactics from the previous war.

However, what Davis also tried to do was imply that, as was the case with Britain and the American colonies, America in Vietnam was trying to enforce imperial control on a small nation.  He also implies that the Soviet Union in the 20th century, as did France in the 18th century, came in after the conflict started to aid the underdog and humiliate an old enemy.  In that, Davis is completely dishonest.  Vietnam was not a part of the American empire, nor was America trying to squeeze it into that role.  And unlike France, the Soviet Union was not initially a disinterested bystander that only came in to aid an underdog and humiliate an old enemy at the same time.  Instead, Vietnam always was a proxy war between superpowers.  More than that, our aim was to prevent Vietnam from being subjugated to a colonizing power, rather than to subjugate it to our own power.

So, not only was Davis biased, he was historically wrong.  Still, he gets points for presenting the facts (even if he didn’t understand their import) and the kids did get more brain food than they would have if they’d just watch an endless series of mindless movies while we drove.

About the Democrats and “History”

As I’ve already noted in this blog, the Left’s obsession with history doesn’t go as far as considering whether it’s good history or bad history.  In a superb article, Abe Greenwald makes precisely the same point:

For amid the symbolic fanfare of giant gavels and the tactical gravitas of deployed Lincoln quotes, one important fact is being swept aside: the state’s co-opting of the private sector never ends well. Every learned lesson about free markets and central planning, incentives, the allocation of scarce resources under competing systems, government incompetence, overall quality of life and freedom in socialist vs. capitalist states — in short, the reality of the Cold War — has been unlearned. Sunday night brought us the most ahistoric bit of history-making we’re likely to see in our lifetimes.

Middle East history has also gone out the window. Whenever Israel has acceded to Palestinian demands, the result has been increased Arab violence. The Palestinians, for their part, have yet to do what Israel and America ask: crack down on terrorism and recognize the Jewish state’s right to exist.

But Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and Nancy Pelosi can outsmart history. They also know best what’s good for the public, which is opposed to their campus-hatched schemes. Never mind what the people themselves want. The Democrats dismiss, along with history and majority opinion, the very system used to enact policy. The president told Bret Baier, “I don’t spend a lot of time worrying about what the procedural rules are in the House or the Senate.” Of course not, too much history to make.

Read the rest here.

Andrew Klavan’s must-see PJTV

You’ve got to see this one.  It’s so right — and it really resonates with me because I work so hard educating and inoculating my children against the omnipresent Leftist pop culture.  I think the video also works for me because, as a history major who has always rejected Marxist and deconstructionist approaches to history, I believe in historic facts and despise the way in which liberals manipulate history to suit their current political outcomes.  (Although, to be just, Shakespeare did precisely the same thing, although he was pandering to current royalty, rather than trying to propagandize the public.)