Several of my Polish friends spoke of having to re-learn some elements of history after the fall of Communism in the late 1980s. History (as well as art, music, the social sciences, and even the physical sciences) was dominated by ideology. Because Communism represented the pinnacle of human achievement, something “the masses” for centuries had been working for, it could not be wrong. It had become a religion, in that sense. And so the mistakes and crimes of the Soviet government were recast as wise planning that had been necessary; the achievements of capitalist countries (read: America and Western Europe) were due solely to capitalists’ deviousness, usually stealing the ideas from the honorable Socialists.
With the fall of the Soviet empire, it seemed that such nonsense would never happen again. Yes, well, it has. As Putin seeks to rebuild Russian strength, he’s turning to nationalism, stoking a pride in the achievements of Soviet Russia. This means recasting a few, unpleasant episodes in Soviet history. No worries, though: “We’ve done it before,” Russian media services must be thinking. “We can do it again.” And so youngsters in Russia will be learning “history” that’s a little different from, well, reality.
A few highlights:
- The Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact was not an agreement with Nazi Germany to split Poland between the two of them. It was a defensive move, for Poland and Japan were planning a two-pronged attack on the Soviet Union. (Source)
- World War II began when Germany attacked Russia in June 1941. The rape of Poland that began almost two years earlier was a defensive move, remember? (Source)
- Stalin’s purges and mass murders were entirely rational and logical — for the good of the country. (Source)
The bottom line: Stalin is a hero who was defending the country from malicious outside influence and outright Polish/German aggression.
The temptation is to mutter something about this never happening in America, but of course it does. The whole premise behind Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States (Amazon) is just that. It’s a play on the maxim, “history is written by the winners,” which means the losers are misrepresented and underrepresented.
A few highlights:
- America was founded as a Christian nation.
- The rise of American power has always been a benign influence on the world.
- American foreign policy has always been a beacon of reason and justice; America respects democracy worldwide.
Not all of these myths are taught or were taught in school, but they are spread evenly enough in our collective conscious (and conscience, possibly) that they might as well have been. And, to be fair to America, the notion that America was founded as a Christian nation is not all that morally repulsive (it only becomes so when one sees that believe in action); the notion that Stalin’s purges were ethically justifiable is completely morally repulsive.
But there is a level playing field now: thank God for the Internet, that beacon of tried and true information. It will surely save Russians and Americans alike from the national myths.
Source: the beatroot