History and dark spots

Many of those that don’t like America point to all the evil
things we have done over the years of our existence, and say “you can’t tell us
what to do, because YOU took land from the Indians, gave them infected
blankets, practiced the worst kind of slavery for almost a century, treated immigrants
poorly, interned the Japanese during WW II, didn’t give women the right to vote
until the 19th Amendment, dropped the atomic bomb, etc., etc.”

Well, yah, we did those things. What’s your point? We never claimed to be perfect. We freely admit
to our many mistakes, and when we recognize our mistakes, we usually try to correct
them as best we can, and move on. Times change, mores change, understanding of
human rights change, technology changes. But, can you name any nation of significance, at any point in history, that doesn’t
have blemishes as bad or worse, and with anything like the saving grace of America’s
accomplishments?And even then, how many of those nations still refuse to admit to the darker spots on their own record?

The Japanese militarists of the 1920s through the end of WW
II committed all kinds of atrocities in China and SE Asia, from the Rape of
Nanking to treatment of POWs to ugly medical experiments.

Various Russian pogroms killed millions, and the soviet communist
gulags and artificial famines killed tens of millions more.

Five of the ten bloodiest wars in history were Chinese civil
wars, and most of the dead were not soldiers, and a “middle-ground” estimate
for the number of dead in the famine caused by the Communist “Great Leap Forward”
is 30 million, and they are famously xenophobic and genocidal against the “wrong”
ethnic groups, and their harsh “one-child” policy has killed millions.

Turkey’s Armenian genocide killed on the order of a million
souls, and the preceding Ottoman empire was for centuries famously cruel to it
salves (mostly Christians as a policy), who they often took as children from
their parents, castrated, and were made government functionaries because the
Christian boys they took tested as smart, and the Turks to lazy to do the hard
work of administration.

Germans had their genocide during WW II against gypsies and
Jews, as well as Slavs and others perceived as inferior.

The Aztecs and Incas butchered millions in human sacrifices (in one recorded case, 80,000 in just four days, with priests working in shifts!),
eating still-beating hears, skinning victims alive and wearing their skins, and
worse.

The various African tribes and kingdoms routinely practiced
slavery, genocides against opposing tribes, witchcraft and executed those
accused of the same.

The Native Americans were at near constant war with one
another, taking slaves, stealing whatever they could, conquering neighboring
territories, and practicing harsh “coming of age” rituals that often left
people scared for life or dead.

The British Empire (and their colonial descendants) had an
active policy of “westernizing” aboriginal populations in Australia, Canada,
New Zealand, and elsewhere, by taking children from their homes and sending
them to boarding schools, where they suffered a shocking (30% to 60% 5 year in Canada’s
case) mortality rate.

The Mongols, Huns, Vandals, Norsemen, and others made their
way burning, looting, raping, and pillaging, across the lands of Asia and Europe.
The Romans were quite effective as reducing cities and nations that opposed
them, raping and enslaving their people, as were the Persian Empires, the Assyrians,
Babylonians, and the rest of the ancient empires.

The various Islamic armies gave millions the “choice” of “convert
or die,” conquering and enslaving tens of millions across the ancient world,
razing cities and destroying peoples left and right. Even today, some of the Islamists
push an active program of utterly destroying archeology sites that might,
possibly, in any way, contradict their particular interpretation of the Koran,
destroying possible insights into history as they do so.

The list goes on, but the pattern is clear. Virtually every
nation or people of note in history did terrible (by modern standards) things
to others that were not considered part of their tribe, clan, religion, or
group. But most of them did it without accomplishing much of particular
significance, furthering scientific advancement, making the average person
better off, broadening human rights, broadening educational opportunities,
helping other nations succeed, or otherwise improving the lot of their citizenry
other than at the expense of the oppressed.  The exceptions, like the Roman Empire, are
notable because they are so unusual,
but even they generally refused to acknowledge their flaws.

America admits the flaws, and tries to learn from them, and
get better. But to do so without also
acknowledging the truly great and unusual things the nation has done is to do
our nation and her people a great disservice, sort of like only looking at the
murders done with guns but not also seeing the cases of guns used for
self-defense. It’s a “cost-benefit” analysis that only looks at the costs, which
gives an entirely incorrect picture of reality.

That is why I think that history should be second only to
language as a field of study in public school. It is full of exciting stories that
anyone and everyone can relate to and learn from, it’s not always technical, it’s
got fascinating bits and pieces as well as sweeping, epic tales, interesting
people, great inventions and close-fought battles, and it can be made exciting and relevant to all age groups. To quote
George Santayana, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to
repeat it”. We really, really
need to not repeat some of the missteps of the 20th C; to do that,
we need to be aware of them. To look at only the warts on our republic’s
history and demand radical changes is the same as admitting that you are
unaware of the worse warts shown to be on all other competing systems of
governance. We are not perfect; but neither are we as evil as some make us out
to be.

Let’s keep working to improve America, not to destroy it and
hope that, magically, something better replaces it; history says that’s
unlikely.

2 thoughts on “History and dark spots

  1. Many of those that don’t like America point to all the evil things we have done over the years of our existence, and say “you can’t tell us what to do, because YOU took land from the Indians, gave them infected blankets, practiced the worst kind of slavery for almost a century, treated immigrants poorly, interned the Japanese during WW II, didn’t give women the right to vote until the 19th Amendment, dropped the atomic bomb, etc., etc.”

    I didn’t do any of those things. I am not accountable for those acts. If I am to be accused of these acts, then so should the people that accuse me (who also didn’t do any of those acts.)

    I can recognize atrocities, too. It doesn’t take all that much brainpower to see that other people have done things that are wrong. To not play a blame game takes a bit of personal integrity, however.

    I am reminded of children when I hear these claims.

  2. History is almost a family hobby with my family, (having a brother finishing a PhD in history probably makes the rest of us stay on our toes, too!) but 3 generations discuss the lack of historical perspective in most Americans at almost every get together.

    We range from the pre-Christian Greeks and Romans through today, and new spouses of my children look around at us like we are speaking a foreign language, but a year or so later are part of the conversation, too.

    I agree, its probably more important than knowing how to solve a quadratic equation for most people, but emphasized less. My brother says his college students can barely discuss the last decade of American history, much less the Civil War.

    Yep, we need more history teachers, but more importantly, more history learners!

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