Redefining HistoryThose with power in the US, over a number of years, have been taken with the idea of using language - even redefining it - to further their own agendas. This has been an unfortunate situation, because when you change the meaning of words, you begin manipulating thought in subtle and permanent ways with often unpredictable results. George Orwell saw the approaching danger when he wrote 1984, and, unfortunately, his view was prescient.
Now we see another form of redefining words - this time in redefining our collective memory of history. It's not the first time, but, again, another disturbing trend. In this case, President Bush tried to argue that the situation in Iraq is like that of Vietnam in the early 1970s, and even referring to al Qaeda and Iraqi insurgents in terms of the "war machine of imperial Japan," according to the Wall Street Journal. (Nothing like dredging up World War II imagery when Japan has greatly changed and is now a close ally.) He warns that a quick withdrawal could lead to chaos and another Khmer Rouge. "Then as now, people argued the real problem was America's presence and that if we would just withdraw, the killing would end," he said.
But this is rewriting history, as the 1984 character Winston Smith saw it done. Instead of seeing the past as immutable, it become an assemblage of clay. When you want to support something you do today, you rearrange the parts, eliminating the ones you don't like, and trot out the "proof." But, again according to the Journal, some historians are upset by this comparison.
"The president emphasized the violence in the wake of American withdrawal from Vietnam. But this happened because the United States left too late, not too early," says Steven Simon, a Mideast expert at the Council on Foreign Relations. "It was the expansion of the war that opened the door to Pol Pot and the genocide of the Khmer Rouge." Ret. Army Brig. Gen. John Johns tells the Journal that what he "learned in Vietnam is that U.S. forces could not conduct a counterinsurgency operation. The longer we stay there, the worse it's going to get."You won't hear too many politicians complain about this, because, at least in my opinion, the majority want access to the same tools to further their ends.
But nothing good can come out of pretending that the past is something other than it was beyond trying to interpret what happened. To remake history is to lie - no other word fits this. But it's not a lie just told to someone else, but to yourself. When you lie to yourself, you destroy your reason. How can you effectively be rational at all if you won't see what is there and insist on making your decisions based on personal fancy? That means we now have a generation of politicians that do their work in a dream world, where the building blocks of experience are set tumbling and the very material of thought - language - is warped and twisted for expediency. Is there any wonder why our country has become so messed up?