America and the Scales of History
About two years ago, my words appeared on these pages for the first
time. The article provided statistical evidence about the true nature
of the so-called "National Standards for U.S. History"
by analyzing the illustrations. Of the 55 plates, a mere 12 were
relevant to the subject matter. More revealing of the authors' intentions,
however, were the 18 images which depicted what they saw as "America
That was not my first time with the "Standards." I wrote
a general critique in The Wall Street Journal on November 8, 1994,
as soon as Lynne Cheney had sounded the alarm. The authors fired
back, but not as extensively as they have done now in a book called
"History on Trial" (Knopf, 1997). For the first time in
my 61 years of existence, I find myself in a chapter entitled "The
Right-Wing Assault"-and given first place at that.
Use of such a title, of course, identifies authors Gary B. Nash,
Charlotte Crabtree, Ross E. Dunn as being on the "Left,"
and brings to mind the title of another book called "Leftism:
An Infantile Disorder of Communists." It was written by Vladimir
But I do plead guilty to the charge of assaulting the "Standards"
because, as quoted by the authors from my piece, they are based
on a concept "developed in the councils of the Bolshevik and
Nazi parties and successfully deployed on the youth of the Third
Reich and the Soviet Empire. The recipe called for schools that
dispense not knowledge but a compendium of selected events, personalities
and interpretations. More important, knowledge was eliminated of
such events and personalities as were deemed to have no usefulness
by the ideologues or the Nazi or Bolshevik party (which also gave
us the concept of political correctness)."
The authors are also correct in guessing that my first article
was based on Lynne Cheney's description, without the benefit of
acquaintance with their actual publication. But soon after they
had become available, I did read the "Standards." And
my analysis of the illustrations was a result of that reading. I
found nothing in the "Standards" that would have caused
the alteration of a single word in my first "assault."
And therein lies the lesson.
Some of us immigrants brought certain unsolicited political experiences
along with the trade or profession we had learned in the "old
country." Among these were the vocabulary, tools and practices
of the regimes under which we had lived. In my case, that meant
Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia. Both, in turn, kept Hungary occupied
during my formative years. The "training" we received
makes it quite simple to know in advance what people of similar
ideological pedigree will write on a given subject. The selections,
judgments and sermons contained in the "National Standards
for U.S. History" were entirely predictable. Once you have
seen the first page, much of the rest is a foregone conclusion.
In the present case, I took Lynne Cheney's word, only to be confirmed
by the first page - and the rest - a little later.
How the authors of the "Standards" came to think the
way they do is the really difficult question. Why the authors so
resent their country, their fellow-Americans, and themselves, is
the really difficult question. What makes well-paid academics see
history as a succession of abominations is the really difficult
Unless, of course, you recall that Marx, too, saw it that way.
Goodness knows, history has not been all cloudless glory. But presenting
it as all horrible is as unrealistic as making it all wonderful.
History is a record of what people have done. Since people will
do good things and bad things, it stands to reason that history
will convey a mixture of the two.
Yet, over time, most societies assemble a record that tends to
be more negative or more positive. Thus the record becomes a sort
of historic balance sheet. The "Standards" would have
you believe that America's "balance sheet" is negative.
I wish the authors and I could make a wager about the long-term
America, my wager would go, will be recorded as the country that
afforded greater liberty for more people than any other.
America will be recorded as the country that produced constantly
growing affluence for an ever-increasing number and proportion of
America will be recorded as the country that never ceased critically
to examine its own conduct, and that never ceased to search for
improvement in every area of human endeavor.
America will be recorded as the country that has displayed unprecedented
magnanimity in victory.
America will be recorded as the country that, like no other in
history, sent its best and brightest to fight for the survival and
liberty of others without expecting a single inch of territorial
Any takers Mr. Nash?