History versus Propaganda

History (well-researched and written with integrity) teaches us lessons from the past we can learn from, propaganda makes us believe things that are not necessarily true. Would-be dictators hate history that accurately reflects the facts of the past and portrays a reasonable cause and effect of events.   History often directly contradicts the strongman’s stilted message.  The only use dictators have for history is selectively highlighting some things that happened, and hiding others, to convince unsophisticated citizens of the righteousness of their grievances, the historical holiness of their cause.  

If you would rule a conformist state, where thought and belief are strictly regulated, you will obviously get rid of certain books, criminalize certain ideas, make a pious, public show of punishing dissent, and in the end destroy the ability to think critically in the masses who will chant your name.   False history, written to benefit a small, powerful group, can rule public perceptions for generations, as the Lost Cause myth of the Civil War did here during a century of racism at law and free reign for terrorist enforcement of the racist worldview.

This influential school of American history, the Dunning School, started at prestigious Columbia University in New York City, not in the former Confederacy.   The Lost Cause theory was based on racist assumptions (slavery actually was mostly benign and benefited the racially inferior Blacks by protecting them) and spread the false idea that the war waged by the states that seceded was not based on protecting The Peculiar Institution (a popular euphemism for American chattel slavery) but on the glorious cause of fighting encroachment of States’ Rights by a tyrannically overreaching federal government.  

In this telling, the viciously biased federal government broke a Constitutional guarantee, under which slavery, never named in the founding document itself, was protected in perpetuity via three or four discreet clauses crafted by fine lawyers who negotiated the compromise with the self-evident proposition that “all men are created equal”.  The glorioys Lost Cause history was taught in classrooms all over the country to several generations of young people, supported by many of America’s greatest historians.  My friends who grew up in Tennessee heard nothing but this story in relation to the Civil War — that it wasn’t fought over slavery at all, it was fought over local sovereignty, something everyone can get behind.  You want unaccountable federal bean-counters running your life, or your friends and neighbors?   The States’ Rights rationale is still pushed by right-wing ideologues to justify all kinds of racial and class warfare motivated mischief.

An obvious problem with this kind of distorted historical story is that it can’t withstand much scrutiny.  Each of the eleven states that seceded from the Union after Lincoln’s election (and Lincoln was not even on the presidential ballot in any of those states, mind you) promulgated Articles of Secession.  You can look them up.  Each list of irreparable grievances began with the federal government’s intended interference with the sacred constitutional right to hold “such persons as the states shall see fit” in servitude without limitation.  And the horrors of slavery, and a century of legally tolerated lynching after the Civil War, are also well-documented.   

I heard a great simple correction of the List Cause myth by a black woman who’d been one of the first in her small southern town to go to school with white kids after Brown v. Board of Education.   She said it was fine if you want to say the Civil War was fought over States’ Rights — it was fought over states’ rights to hold slaves.  

For Professor Dunning and his progeny it was a matter of de-emphasizing or omitting details like the incriminating Articles of Secession, the real atrocities of slavery and all other evidence that contradicted their preferred narrative of a glorious lost cause fought for righteous ideals.  Focus instead on the alleged post-war corruption of little over a decade of Reconstruction (the federal government again sticking their fingers in the glorious South’s eye by forcing them to allow thousands of ignorant Blacks to vote!).  Cite the way some slaves were loyal to their masters as proof that there was nothing so terrible about being owned like a cow, goat, horse and used similarly.  The only truly terrible thing, in the immensely influential Dunning version of history (supported by Supreme Court rulings, mind you) was the pious, hypocritical tyranny of the federal government.  This popular myth was indispensable for the white southern bigots who filibustered proposed federal anti-lynching and voting rights laws for decades.

What was one of Putin’s first moves after he attacked Ukraine?   Make it a crime to call his totally justified invasion an attack, a war or an invasion.   No!  It is peacekeeping police action, like the US did in Viet Nam and many other places!   Say otherwise and it’s fifteen years in the jailhouse for you, lying dissident criminal.

The impulse of fascists is always the same — manipulate public opinion, don’t hesitate to lie, lie big and lie constantly, promulgate your alternate “history”, attack so-called “fact” and vilify the superior elites that do things like write critical books and encourage intelligent debate based on known facts.  There will be no intelligent debate based on anything, only debate framed by our terms and conducted under our rules and laws.  If you are a young gay person, shut the fuck up.  If you are a victim of racism, shut the fuck up.  If you are Black or poor and want to vote, forget about it.   If you are raped and become pregnant there is no harm in being forced to carry the fetus to term, giving birth and putting the baby up for adoption.  You have an absolute right to carry a gun and if you kill somebody because you were really afraid of them, it is no crime.  If you teach history that embarrasses innocent white kids or makes them feel bad, you have violated a new zero tolerance law.

It is tempting to call a party that embraces these tactics of fascism Nazis.  Read the story of Adolf Eichmann set out by Hannah Arendt in Eichmann in Jerusalem.   He was an ambitious man of limited intellectual curiosity who blindly followed the current of history that swept Hitler into power.   He did what he was told to further the eventually murderous goals of his superiors.  How was he any different than any of Trump’s loyal enablers?  What is the difference between the mentality of Eichmann and Jeffrey Clarke, the DOJ appointee who eagerly stepped up to put Trump’s stolen election lie on DOJ letterhead to try to overturn the certified election results in states Trump lost?  A guy like Clark, with his fervent desire to serve a strong, unprincipled leader, is basically a Nazi.

Remember, the Nazis did not sweep into power and immediately build death camps and start mass murdering.   It took eight or nine years in power, a declaration of war and the blitzkrieg, before they took the gloves off and began secretly implementing their insane leader’s wildest dreams of extermination.   They did it one step at a time, preparing the population by feeding them false history and fake news (while coining the term fake news — die lugenpresse).   

It was more than a year before Hitler took care of political rivals by having a coordinated national killing spree history recalls as The Night of the Long Knives.   One famous general he had executed stood up in his office when the assassins entered, confirmed that he was von Schliecher, and was killed in a hail of bullets along with his wife.  At first Hitler told Germany the “treasonous” general had been shot while resisting arrest, a week or two later he nonchalantly referred to “when I had Schliecher shot.”    It was more than five years before the first organized nationwide pogrom against Jews in Germany, Kristallnacht.  It took a controversial gassing program that targeted “lives unworthy of life” (lebensunvertes leben) in mental hospitals, Hitler’s humane euthanasia program (they put a noble spin on everything with strict language laws), to prepare Germany for the gassing of millions of others.   In fact, the Fuhrer had to stop killing Germans in mental hospitals due to the increasing discomfort of other Germans.   Jews, Gypsies, Communists, Homosexuals, Poles?   Not a problem, just euthanize ’em somewhere else.

American Nazis, neo-Confederates, white supremacists, white nationalists, Trumpists, the RNC or whatever you want to call them, never sleep or take a day off.  They may yet gain control of this country, through insane state election integrity laws passed by partisans cynically exploiting the Big Lie, though they must be fought at every step if we have learned anything from the last time their ilk controlled a vast industrialized nation.  They constantly rail against things like the Child Tax Credit that briefly lifted millions of children out of life-scarring poverty as “communism”.   A plan to increase the budget for IRS enforcement of the tax laws, targeting wealthy “tax avoiders” — Communism!  Voting Rights — partisan commie bullshit to enable more massive commie fraud, Commies!   Ethical rules for the Supreme Court, Radical activist Leftist commie child blood drinking drivel!   

The debate we have here is not a debate in the classical sense of two sides presenting clashing ideas and the better idea prevailing, based on the respective arguments, it is Newt Gingrich’s total war.  One side scorches the earth and dares their enemies to do something about it.  The other side publishes thoughtful, morally upright things like this (while the architects of US torture ply their hideous trade and escape all accountability, fuck you, LIBS!):

There is history worth reading and there is propaganda.  Here’s some recent American propaganda commissioned by the dumb dictator-worshiping fuck who still insists he won a rigged election in a landslide. It begins by piously reciting the truth that nobody in our system is above the law, as the former president continued to lie about winning an election he lost and insist that he is above the law. I love the fact that immediately after his inauguration Biden had this bullshit taken down — I’ve preserved a few bits of it, for posterity. 

Read, but think.   Read, but verify facts that can be demonstrated with evidence and discard fiction.  There is a big difference between useful history and the propaganda spread by cravenly ambitious useful idiots.