This past week, we saw the passing of one the world’s great historians. Sir Martin Gilbert, official biographer of Sir Winston Churchill, and author of many meticulously researched historical tomes including the histories of WWI, WWII, the Twentieth Century, and Judaism and the Holocaust, succumbed to the ravages of disease and age. Sir Martin, was a traditional historian who saw history as a device not by which to judge, but to illuminate. He did not see value in fitting the facts to a preexisting narrative. Accuracy, detail and exhaustive care with the precision of facts were his watchwords. With such individuals, the looseness with facts and the lack of depth of understanding so prevalent in today’s soundbite culture was anathema to him.
History, the bedrock intellectual pursuit that brings human perspective to all current events and passions, and that provides the means by which tragedy and missteps can be avoided by understanding what came before, has been dying as a discipline for some time. The modern citizen, asked to recall the components of his own citizenship, progressively fails to remember the simplest reasons for why he is a citizen and not a primeval schlub. When asked questions on the critical components of a civilized society, routinely the answer is a ludicrous guess or blank stare. A slim minority can name the founding American documents that secures their rights as citizens, the President who secured the end of slavery as an accepted form of economic servitude in the United States, the correct century in which World War II was fought, or basic events that led to the great mass murderers, Hitler, Stalin, and Mao.
The virus that has affected the average citizen was at least at one time resisted by the collective intellectual braintrust of the country, who had to determine the careful steps a country must take in a dangerous world, and where history might reveal the avoidable pitfalls . No longer. The President’s woeful depth of knowledge of history progressively shows itself to be not only ignorant, but aggressive and dangerous. At The National Prayer Breakfast this week, the President built upon his philosophical belief as to the moral equality of all religious cultural movements a superficial, nonsensical, and tortured historical rationalization for how the world about us became the world about us. At past times, the President’s gaffe filled memory of history and geography, the ‘fifty-seven states’ of the US, the lack of knowledge as to the chronology of the civil rights movement, and the clunky recall of his supposed specialty, constitutional law, seemed to be a simple reflection of the times. The self centered historical reflection without any attention to the actual details Obama exhibited in his recent speech, shows the premeditation of time honored principles of propagandists to sprinkle a few haphazard ‘facts’ into a predetermined meme of opinion that promotes the big lie. The specifics of the speech are torn apart by Jonah Goldberg of the National Review, who recognizes the nonsense for what it is. But what does it say about how Obama’s own shamhistory is affecting his decisions as leader of the most powerful country on earth? The preening nonsense, so effortlessly and confidently emoted, promotes a darker and much more dangerous ignorance that could eventually get a lot of people killed.
Mixing up history and mythology, fact and fiction, memory and reality is a progressive plague upon how so much of our current important decision making and opinions are formed. The President’s moral equivalence and misrepresentation of hundreds of years old events such as the Crusades or the Inquisition and their place in history with today’s Islamic savagery, borders on cartoon. But he is not alone. The news anchor Brian Williams, who sees himself as the ‘one people trust” in objectively presenting the news, can not manage to present events without confabulating his role in them, to somehow make himself more authentic by telling tales that make him less so. Hillary Clinton, our potential next president, assumes people can absorb a big lie regarding a pathetic video no one watched making fun of Mohammed rather than own up to her own inaction and lack of preparation in the Benghazi debacle. John Kerry, our Secretary of State, made his mark in the military confabulating his Swift boat exploits in Vietnam, destroying others reputation to build his own. The President of Russia concocts a history regarding Ukraine that permits him to absorb it.
Embellishing or confabulating history is nothing new, but it often had a more innocent objective of promoting positive principles that reflected innate truths. George Washington could not tell a lie. Abraham Lincoln could split rails with one hand. Nelson Mandela was a scion of liberty and democracy. History can bring light onto the dirtiest of reflected mirrors of the past. In the current world however there isn’t even shame any longer on the process of embellishing or misrepresenting the way things came to be. We don’t even have enough pride in ourselves to demand of our leaders an objective hashing out of the truth. And that how you get the speech the President gave. And that is how we get the President, and history, we deserve.