Thursday, November 8, 2018
Book Review: 'Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong' by James W. Loewen
This is the kind of book that will make a grown man cry. It reveals that much of what we have learned as American history, from its "so-called discovery" down to Barack Obama's lack-luster Presidency, is little more than a pack of "socially-approved" lies: racist heroification, and the reification and deification of racists, all hiding behind a veil of seeming upbeat but tense and cunningly false patriotism.
Paraphrasing James Baldwin, "what passes for identity in America is a series of myths about the [racial superiority] of our heroic ancestors." As this book aptly demonstrates, little of the American historical narrative holds up under close moral and historical scrutiny.
To begin with, Christopher Columbus, a brutal, greedy, racist exploiter, who punished the Arawak Indians by siccing dogs on them until they were torn apart and eaten, did not discover anything -- since, Native Americans have occupied this continent for more than 10,000 years. Moreover, there are at least a dozen well-documented excursions to the Americas that occurred before Columbus' own 1492 excursion -- some by Africans and the Phoenicians as much as a thousand years earlier. These are facts that any Historian of the American narrative worth his salt would have known about.
If there is to be a hero of Columbus's era, it must be his staunches critic, one lowly Priest named Bartholomew Las Casas, the one Spaniard who knew the truth about Columbus and let the whole world know that, despite GHW Bush's lavish praise of him 500 years later, Columbus was nothing but a vicious mad dog petty racist tyrant enslaver, a mercenary on a sustained death march across the Caribbean in search of gold and silver for the Spanish crown. He brought so much death and mayhem in his wake that neither the Spanish nor the Mexicans hold him up as a hero or honor him. The Ararwak, threw their gold in the sea rather than allowed him to get his hands on it. I saw his tomb in a church in Seville, but even the tour guide only spoke of him in muted terms and beneath his breathe.
And anyway, did any one other than this author think to ask: Why is it that Christopher Columbus is a certified American hero and not a Spanish or Mexican hero? He was not American, but was an Italian living in Spain and sailing under a Spanish flag? He thus is much closer to Spain and Mexico than to the U.S.? This author concludes that Christopher Columbus is an American hero only because he was white and fits the racist narrative -- and for no other reason.
If we attempted to summarize every tower of lies chopped-down by this author's narrative, it would be a very long review indeed. We all are slowly finding out that of our founding fathers were mostly slave owning racist/sexist hypocrites. But here we discover that they also were greedy land speculators with British pretensions, loyal to the new nation only as far as their personal ideologies of self-interest went. Lincoln too was a white supremacist hypocrite, who at least was open about his desire to send all blacks back to Africa upon gaining their freedom.
However, the American President that takes the cake for me is Woodrow Wilson, who is best known for the failed "League of Nations" and not for the fact that he was a vicious racist. However, as it turns out the League of Nations, was just a mask for arguably one of the most outspoken racist Presidents in US history. Wilson went out of his way to insult and make life more difficult for blacks. He re-segregated the federal government, including the navy -- even fired the blacks on his personal White House staff. And his wife, was an even more vicious racist than Wilson himself was. By praising DW Griffith's vulgar movie "Brith of a Nation," based on a fictional book by Thomas Dixon called the "Clansman," (who not coincidentally was one of Wilson's classmates), Wilson set the climate for the series of pogrom against blacks throughout the 1920s.
But worse than his racist attitudes and policies, was his foreign policy in our own backyard. His intervention in Latin America, set the tone for the despots and tyrants like Trujillo, Duvalier, Samoza and Bastista that would bedevil this nation for two generations. The American public was so fed up with their first and only Phd president, that Wilson's hand-picked successor, James Cox, was trounced by Warren G Harden even though Harden never had to campaign against him. There is much more here. Five stars.
Dr. Herbert L. Calhoun and has been reposted with permission. Like what you read? Subscribe to the SFRB's free daily email notice so you can be up-to-date on our latest articles. Scroll up this page to the sign-up field on your right.