On a trip to Moscow several years ago, I visited the Museum of the “Great Patriotic War,” what the Russians call World War II. Among the more memorable, even jarring, aspects of the visit was the chronology. The “Great Patriotic War,” World War II, by the Soviet reckoning began in 1941 (June 22, to be precise) and ended in 1945. When I pointed out to the museum guide who quite earnestly described both the suffering of the Soviet peoples during the war as well as their heroism) that the war actually started in 1939, when the Nazis and their Soviet allies both invaded Poland, she casually replied that the Great Patriotic War began in 1941 when the Nazis invaded the Soviet Union.
Gone and forgotten was the Soviet-Nazi Pact, written out of history. Two years were excised from World War II in order to avoid uncomfortable questions to the ruling bodies.
Similarly, on a visit to New Orleans (oddly, a month before Hurricane Katrina struck), I toured the Museum of the Confederacy that paid homage to the culture and heritage of the Old South. It was filled with guns and clothing and memorabilia of Southern life before the Civil War. There was just slight omission: there was no mention of slavery. That institution didn’t quite find its way into the museum.
Revisionist history is nothing new. History is often written by those with a specific agenda, and usually under the assumption that people are ignorant, have short memories, or are simply looking for confirmation of their biases. What is exceedingly rare historically, but becoming quite common today, is the revisionism of current events, such that events that have unfolded before our eyes are being forgotten or swept under the rug. Others are being shaped by slogans or clichés that are false, misleading or inaccurate.
For example, in a few months (if it hasn’t happened already) who will care about Benghazi? The failure of intelligence, the hesitation in dispatching Special Forces, the lies about a “video” that purported to be the motivation behind the terrorist attack, and the persistent denials and obfuscations about the terror itself are all submerged in a single narrative that echoes Hillary Clinton’s line: “what difference does it make?” Reputations matter more than truth. The mobilization of an entire government to conceal the truth from the people – especially during the height of an election – is shrouded by the sudden and protracted befuddlement of all participants.
So, too, the collapse of Iraq into sectarian violence effaces the progress that had been made over the last decade. Such violence had largely ended before American troops were summarily pulled out after the Obama administration failed to conclude a new Status of Forces Agreement. The narrative of “Iraq War Failure” is coming true, in a way that was unnecessary if the conflict had been managed successfully by the current president. It wasn’t. As Iraq slides into the Iranian orbit, US interests will suffer. But who will recall the proximate cause? History will record only the “Bush Failure.”
The promise to remove US troops from overseas wars is being fulfilled. But after US troops leave Afghanistan, how long will it take for the rebirth of the Taliban and a new base of operations for Al-Qaeda? The current policy of declaring victory in the war on Islamic terror and retreating sounds good but is a terrible harbinger for the future. Those problems will mature under a future president, much like Clinton’s disregard of Osama bin Laden only exploded in his successor’s administration. Ditto the freebie that Assad has received in his use of chemical weapons; the divestment agreement, which has little credibility, serves its main purpose of Obama saving face in the wake of his red lines being ignored. That, too, will be someone else’s problem. Obama is laying the foundation for one of his main legacies: never having sent US troops into battle on his own account. But that “legacy” might be a harmful one, if troops are actually needed to fight evil, and certainly if the United States is thereby reduced to a secondary military and economic power in the world as is projected by the present course.
US guarantees that Iran will not acquire a nuclear weapon stand now as rhetoric detached from reality. All sanctions and pressure will be lifted if the right words are uttered and the right treaties signed at the right signing ceremonies – just like the North Koreans did en route to their nuclear bombs. A scandal-weary public already little recalls the excesses of the IRS or the NSA. They will be blips in the history books, if that.
Add to this litany of revisionism the president’s style of non-negotiation with Congress over domestic issues, resting on his oft-repeated assertion that he “won” and therefore can do as he wishes. But the former adjunct professor of Constitutional Law overlooks the fact that the Republicans in Congress also “won,” also have constituents to represent, and that the presidency is just one branch of three co-equal branches of government. “I won” is not only arrogance, but a contemptuous dismissal of political norms. It is a shame that no Republican challenges him on those statements; the people elected a president – a Chief Executive of one branch of government – not a dictator.
And among the more risible and unchallenged declarations of the president in recent weeks is that he will not negotiate with Congress over raising the debt ceiling because the United States has “to pay its bills,” and “meet its obligations.” But borrowing more money to pay bills is not the same as “paying bills.” Bills are paid with money that you have and not by incurring new debt. Using one’s MasterCard to pay one’s Visa bill is not quite meeting the country’s (or anyone’s) obligations; it is rather enshrining the abandonment of personal responsibility, thrift, decency, pushing the problem onto the next guy, reaping the popular benefits from a disengaged public, and indicative of a lack of vision or leadership.
Bear in mind today the deceptions, the mendacious speech and slogans, and the soothing talk that masks the government’s dysfunction. They are the first drafts of tomorrow’s history that, like the museums in Moscow and New Orleans, will obscure uncomfortable truths in order to promote the agendas of their sponsors.