When History Becomes More Like Professional Wrestling

by Scott Manning on May 16, 2013

FDR“FDR was a piece of shit. If you disagree, you don’t know history.” That is what someone said to me during a stream of articles last month about President Roosevelt’s attitude and policy toward Jews during World War II.

While everyone piled on the president, I pointed out that his attitudes toward Jewish people was not some anomaly, but was indicative of the times. The Nazis did not invent anti-Semitism, but it has been evident in European culture at least since the Crusades, and even before. I was not justifying FDR’s actions, but instead trying to demonstrate that it took a world war to change the attitudes of the world.

No matter how I explained it, I became the target, the defender of FDR, if you will. I am not even a Democrat!

The problem was I forgot people have much to lose or gain by seeing FDR tarnished or glorified. Many figures and events from history have become so politicized that we cannot see past the popular opinions of our own groups.

Many discussions about history devolve into people yelling past each other. Historians are graded on whether they agree with our preconceived notion of history, not on their ability to research, analyze, and present the past. Notice how some of the bestselling history books come from people such as Bill O’Reilly and Rachel Maddow. If they wrote about the same topic, we might be able to gauge which political party was more interested in history.

The result is something akin to a professional wrestling match. FDR comes up in the conversation, and then people cheer or boo him, never anything in between. Reagan comes up in the conversation, and then we either give him credit for defeating Communism single-handedly or decry him for screwing the poor.

The question we have to ask ourselves is whether we want to learn about history or we want to learn the single perspective of history that fits in with our groups. The latter forces us to face uncomfortable questions while the latter makes us feel good.

I am tired of feeling good.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Jimmy Dick May 22, 2013 at 2:37 PM

Good post. I’ve asked this same question in the past. Why do people get so upset when we present facts that conflict with their beliefs? There are a lot of people that do not want their concept of the past challenged. We see it all the time with the Teabaggers, the neo-confederates, far leftwing extremists, anyone that is a regular listener of Glenn Beck, and etc.
Presidents are viewed as either positive or negative. The majority of people associate their interests as to whether they were better off or worse under a president and then that is how they view them. The fact is the presidents are complex people making a ton of decisions or in many cases just dealing with issues they have little to no control over. People tend to equate presidents with a family history as well. FDR is good or bad depending on how a family did under him. That also forms a lot of personal political beliefs which are hard to change.

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2 Charlotte Q. Wyatt June 11, 2013 at 2:42 PM

If you think that FDR’s lying to get us into the war was in our interests or a good thing because of the result, the unleashing of Communism on a mighty scale, (it’s hard to see how we could have been worse off, especially considering that Japan was third-rate and Germany had lost the Battle of Britain and in N. Africa and was losing in Russia already) consider this: if lying for the peoples’ good is permitted and FDR had the right to do it, to whom is the right denied? It is a total repudiation of our democratic institutions and Constitutional form of government. It is personal and arbitrary government – the principle of totalitarianism. FDR broke all commitments that he had made – not to go to war, the 4 freedoms, the Atlantic Charter and limitlessly misrepresented his foreign policies and his commitments at Yalta both publicly and privately. A problem for mythmakers is that if Pearl Harbor was a surprise to FDR, then he was a victim, not a maker of history; he did not lead the nation into war for reasons of world morality but was forced into it or drawn into it or compelled to take up arms against his will, by circumstances beyond his control. If Pearl Harbor was not a surprise, FDR was a traitor.

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