The elasticity of history, and of reality, and taking the wrong fork.

There may be one reality, but our views of it are elastic. When my father taught at the City University in New York, he had a maverick colleague who wrote a book that nobody took very seriously titled “A People’s History of the United States“. The author, Howard Zinn, was a Communist, and as you can imagine, his book did not make the United States look good. Eventually Mary Grabar, a professor who was born in a Communist country but grew up in the U.S. wrote a book titled: “Debunking Howard Zinn: Exposing the Fake History That Turned a Generation against America“.
Which book do you think was more successful?
Here is a quote from the Federalist:

“Zinn’s book was first published in 1980 and is now estimated to have sold some 2.6 million copies. College Board’s rewrite of its Advanced Placement U.S. history course features Zinn’s book and embeds his anti-American philosophy.
The tragedy of all this, of course, is that Zinn’s book is concentrated poison. Using a careful review of his source materials and claims, as evidenced by her nearly 1,000 footnotes, Grabar documents quite clearly and conclusively that Zinn is not only a plagiarist but a liar.”

Since the worldview of many educators is to the left, Zinn’s book has more influence than Grabar’s ever will.
Or take the 1619 project. Here is quote from City Journal:

In August 2019, the New York Times magazine published the “1619 Project.” This series of essays and articles provided readers with many “facts” that they may not have known: that the American Revolution was fought to preserve slavery; that Abraham Lincoln was a racist; that America’s foundational premise was “slavocracy;” that present-day American wealth is a direct consequence of slavery; and that the essential pattern of our history is not one of unprecedented growth in freedom and democracy but institutional hatred and oppression of blacks.

If you were unfamiliar with these facts, there is good reason—none are true. As National Association of Scholars president Peter W. Wood reveals in 1620: A Critical Response to the 1619 Project, the larger purpose of the Times’s project appears to have been to promote racial grievances and resentment. Most damningly, Wood points out that a Times fact-checker who contacted a radical historian to weigh the claim that the revolution was fought to protect slavery was told that this was nonsense.

So which book has more clout?

One clue: The Pulitzer Center helped turn The New York Times’ The 1619 Project — which received worldwide attention when it was published last year — into a curriculum that’s now taught in more than 4,500 schools nationwide.

On reading the above, you might shrug your shoulders, and say we all know that the winners of the ideological wars write the history books. Some of these winners are unscrupulous and twist facts to fit their motivated reasoning. Yawn…

However, lets continue:

There is a large book, with many footnotes, put out by the Nation of Islam (a black Muslim organization in the U.S.) that claims the Jews were heavily involved in the black slave trade:.
According to Wikipedia:

The Secret Relationship Between Blacks and Jews is a three-volume work published by the Nation of Islam. The first volume, which was released in 1991, asserts that Jews dominated the Atlantic slave trade. The Secret Relationship has been widely criticized for being anti-Semitic and for failing to provide an objective analysis of the role of Jews in the slave trade. The American Historical Association issued a statement condemning claims that Jews played a disproportionate role in the Atlantic slave trade, and other historians such as Wim Klooster and Seymour Drescher concluded that the role of Jews in the overall Atlantic slave trade was in fact minimal. Critics of the book assert that it uses selective citations in order to purposefully exaggerate the role of Jews.

So why would the Nation of Islam push a book such as this? Assuming the book is inaccurate, the reason might be that NOI’s religion says some unpleasant things about Jews and so its adherents might want to believe negative facts about Jews.

Again, we might ask, how much influence has this book had:

According to an opinion article in the NY Times from 1992:

… the bible of the new anti-Semitism is “The Secret Relationship Between Blacks and Jews,” an official publication of the Nation of Islam that boasts 1,275 footnotes in the course of 334 pages.

Sober and scholarly looking, it may well be one of the most influential books published in the black community in last 12 months. It is available in black-oriented shops in cities across the nation, even those that specialize in Kente cloth and beads rather than books. It can also be ordered over the phone, by dialing 1-800-48-TRUTH. Meanwhile, the book’s conclusions are, in many circles, increasingly treated as damning historical fact.

Interestingly enough a writer in the Atlantic reviews the book, and indicates that yes, some Jews who were located in slave trading economies did trade in slaves, or own slaves. Nonetheless, the book is a distortion by making Jews more guilty than others.

However, as Winston Churchill once said: “A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on.”

There is a book called “The Avengers” which I once read. It describes how:

in 1944, a band of Jewish guerrillas emerged from the Baltic forest to join the Russian army in its attack on Vilna, the capital of Lithuania. The band, called the Avengers, was led by Abba Kovner, a charismatic young poet. In the ghetto, Abba had built bombs, sneaking out through the city’s sewer tunnels to sabotage German outposts.

Being Jewish, I was impressed and heartened that some Jews fought back in WW-II.
But there was a twist. I mentioned the book to my father, who had left Germany at about 10 years old with his parents, and gone with them to Palestine. What he told me was that Kovner’s group was leftist, and when other, more right-wing Jews in town asked him for a copy of the plans of the sewers, he did not let them have it. I asked my father how he knew this, and he said that some of the remaining townspeople survived the Holocaust, came to Israel, and told the story.

So even reading a book which I was convinced was true, and whose heroes and heroines I was rooting for – I was not seeing the whole picture.

This raises a question – should we trust the history that we are taught? I was taught a different version of events in my schools than what is taught now. Was my version correct?

Currently we are living through a period where a significant fraction of the country believe that Donald Trump would have been re-elected president, if not for voter fraud. But I read the adjective “baseless” before any claims of voter fraud in conservative papers such as the Wall Street Journal and the New York Post. A conservative columnist, Ben Shapiro, says claims of voter fraud are a lie. A conservative named Debra Saunders says this in an article titled “How to start a civil war“:

I’ve talked to multiple Trump supporters who told me that the election was stolen, and that fraud skewed the vote in the Democrats’ favor.
They stuck to their guns, so to speak, as recounts failed to change a single state’s outcome. They stuck to their guns as judges and courts found the Trump campaign claims to be flimsy and unconvincing — way below the bar necessary to disenfranchise legally cast American votes.

Now this is a fork in the road. One fork starts with the assumption that there was voter fraud. The other starts with the assumption there was none. Where do these two roads lead? If there was voter fraud, then the newly elected government is illegitimate. It also means we no longer live in a democracy. If there was no voter fraud, then President Trump either lied in an effort to hold on to power, or believed what the Wall Street Journal calls “Conspiracy Theories” that led the more radical element of his followers to storm into the capitol building while the congress was certifying the electoral college result.

I personally believe there was voter fraud, partly because of this study by Economist John Lott at the DOJ: (for a more popular summary, see here ). I’ve also seen two of the several undercover videos of Project Veritas where a Democrat confesses to knowing about voter fraud in earlier elections. So how do I explain away the courts rejecting all the cases that have been brought? Well two of the cases that I looked at were not rejected based on looking on the evidence, but on ‘standing’ of the claimants (in the case of the Supreme Court) or the lack of a law to enforce oversight (in Pennsylvania).

Other people explain this challenge to their belief in voter fraud by saying that courts are afraid to take such cases, but of course motivation is notoriously hard to know.

Whatever I believe, its interesting that:

Twitter and Facebook — the social media megaphones Trump has used to communicate with some 80 million followers — have terminated the president’s personal accounts.

Apple, Amazon and Google have cut ties to the social media website Parler, which is popular among conservatives.

Now, Cumulus Media, which has more than 400 radio stations and employs some of the most popular conservative talk-radio hosts in the nation, has warned its on-air personalities to stop suggesting the election of 2020 was stolen from Trump — or face termination.

Major corporations have begun to instruct their Political Action Committees to halt contributions to Republican legislators who support Trump. And some of Trump’s Cabinet officers and White House staff have bailed out on him.

The reason this is interesting is that ‘voter fraud’ should be a topic that can be debated. It is either true, or false, or a gray area where there was some fraud, but some fraud is inevitable in any election. Its truth or falsity is independent of whether people who believe it would commit violence, and therefore must be prevented from believing it by censorship.

How we look at the whole episode varies drastically – remember, I’m claiming that history is elastic. I’ll end with the words of Arnold Schwarzenegger, who was a two-term Republican governor of California as well as the star of the Terminator franchise and other action movie classics.

I should say that I think he is wrong, but you can see one fork in the road here:

In a video posted to social media and scored to rousing classical music, the 73-year-old said he “would like to say a few words to my fellow Americans and to our friends around the world about the events of recent days”.

“I grew up in Austria and was very aware of Kristallnacht, or the Night of Broken Glass,” he said. “It was a night of rampage against the Jews carried out [by] the Nazi equivalent of the Proud Boys [a quasi-fascist group of Trump supporters].”

“Wednesday was the Day of Broken Glass right here in the United States. The broken glass was in the windows of the United States Capitol. But the mob did not just shatter the windows of the Capitol. It has shattered the ideals we took for granted. They did not just break down the doors of the building that housed American democracy. They trampled the very principles on which our country was founded.”

Schwarzenegger described a traumatic childhood in post-war Austria, the son of a police officer who joined the Nazi party.
…President Trump sought to overturn the results of an election. And a fair election. He sought a coup by misleading people with lies. My father and our neighbours were misled also with lies. I know where such lies lead.”

There you have it – on one side, a belief that a lying demagogue is misleading his followers to trample on democracy, on the other a belief that an election was stolen and this caused the end of Democracy.

Each wrong fork in the road leads us further and further from the truth. How many wrong forks have we taken?

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