Historian Timothy Snyder wrote an excellent extended piece in the NY Times recently entitled The War on History Is a War on Democracy. He goes over the recent history of “memory laws”, usually used by totalitarian states, and would-be totalitarians, to ban the teaching of inconvenient aspects of history in furtherance of their demand for citizen obedience. If you make cause and effect disappear you can convince ill-informed citizens of virtually anything.
These memory laws are counterfactual, since they deny things that actually happened, but they don’t need to make sense — they are strictly political in their intent. They’re intended to erase accounts and collective memory of bad things that actually happened, things the law may have shrugged at, held nobody accountable for, things essential to study if you hope to avoid the mistakes of the past. Erase the awful things done under color of law, et viola, a beautiful past, an inspiring and idealistic past, made to order!
Snyder points to the example of Putin’s 2014 “memory law” banning the discussion of Soviet war crimes during history’s deadliest war. The law claims that since all war crimes were adjudicated at the Nuremberg trials, bringing up alleged Soviet war crimes is actually “holocaust denial”. Of course, as Snyder points out, the Soviet Union participated in the prosecution of Nazi war crimes and no Soviets were tried, let alone held accountable for any of the massacres done by their troops, approved by their generals and by Stalin, but no matter. If you talk about any of that in Russia today, you are guilty of “holocaust denial” and in violation of the 2014 Russian memory law.
We have the same thing going on here, obviously, with the many new state laws proscribing the teaching of horrible, often racially motivated, moments of violence in our past, some little remembered to start with, that the law, and American historians, long winked at here. Ever hear of the New Orleans Race Massacre of 1866 ? You sure won’t now in any state that is determined to teach only an inspiring, patriotic history of our Exceptional USA. Mentioning an unspeakable horror like this massacre under current Florida law will get you in very hot water, very fast.
Snyder puts his finger on what is so destructive about these laws, designed to keep people in the dark about cause and effect in history.
If it is illegal in Florida to teach about systemic racism, then aspects of the Holocaust relevant for young Americans go untaught. German race laws drew from the precedent set by Jim Crow in the United States. But since Jim Crow is systemic racism, having to do with American society and law, the subject would seem to be banned in Florida schools.
Well-done and well worth reading. If you can’t read it at the link above, shoot me a comment and I’ll be happy to cut and paste the entire piece for you.
The New Orleans Massacre of 1866 occurred on July 30, when a peaceful demonstration of mostly black Freedmen was set upon by a mob of white rioters, many of whom had been soldiers of the recently defeated Confederate States of America, leading to a full-scale massacre.
We learn, (unless in a Florida classroom, apparently):
By the end of the massacre, at least 200 black Union war veterans were killed, including forty delegates at the Convention. Altogether 238 people were killed and 46 were wounded.
How did this happen?
The New Orleans Massacre, also known as the New Orleans Race Riot, occurred on July 30, 1866. While the riot was typical of numerous racial conflicts during Reconstruction, this incident had special significance. It galvanized national opposition to the moderate Reconstruction policies of President Andrew Johnson and ushered in much more sweeping Congressional Reconstruction in 1867.
The riot took place outside the Mechanics Institute in New Orleans as black and white delegates attended the Louisiana Constitutional Convention. The Convention had reconvened because the Louisiana state legislature had recently passed the black codes and refused to extend voting rights to black men. Also on May 12, 1866, four years of Union Army imposed martial law ended and Mayor John T. Monroe, who had headed city government before the Civil War, was reinstated as acting mayor. Monroe had been an active supporter of the Confederacy.
As a delegation of 130 black New Orleans residents marched behind the U.S. flag toward the Mechanics Institute, Mayor Monroe organized and led a mob of ex-Confederates, white supremacists, and members of the New Orleans Police Force to the Institute to block their way. The mayor claimed their intent was to put down any unrest that may come from the Convention but the real reason was to prevent the delegates from meeting.
As the delegation came to within a couple of blocks of the Institute, shots were fired but the group was allowed to proceed to the meeting hall. Once they reached the Institute the police and white mob members attacked them, beating some of the marchers while others rushed inside the building for safety.
Or as Trumpist governor Ron “DeathSantis” would say to any Florida teacher allowing this kind of anti-American propaganda in her classroom “YOU’RE FIRED!”