Comment: Whose History Is It Anyway?
Trust Your Government
was looking through a college Social Psychology textbook the other
day, reading about time, schedules and Circadian Principles when
I happened upon the following sentence: "In 1876, the
wind-up clock was invented in Connecticut, and life was never
the same again."
That sentence and it's subsequent claims of Yankee ingenuity disturbed
me for some reason. I re-read it three or four times, finally
realizing what it was that troubled me I just couldn't
believe that the wind-up watch was so recently invented!
15th Century Clock
So I reached
for my New York Public Library Desk Reference book (NYLDR), a comprehensive
fact book filled with the most random of facts, (Go ahead! Ask me anything!)
and turned to the list of important scientific inventions to check when
the clock was discovered. Sure enough, according to the NYLDR, the mechanical
clock was invented in 1360 by Henri de Vick of Württemburg for
King Charles the V of France. The portable clock (popularly known as
the Nürnberg Egg) was invented by the German Peter Henlein around
1500. Even back then they used coiled springs that had to be wound up
to power the watches.
So why was this Social Psychology textbook telling me that the wind-up
clock was invented in 1876? I read the textbook again and there were
no references to either Henri de Vick or King Charles V. Instead, credit
for inventing the portable watch was given to the Unknown Yankee American.
One may feel that I'm splitting hairs here, but shouldn't credit be
given where credit is due? I mean, if a German invented the freakin'
watch, why shouldn't an American textbook contain that information?
The answer is simple: because to do so would grant a certain amount
of legitimacy to an outside system, and that's not what the American
educational system is all about. No, the American way is the best way,
and we don't inherit inventions from Old Europe we invent them
ourselves and claim first place.
Propaganda is a strong word that evokes dark, disquieting images.
Perhaps we picture Nazi Germany or some other totalitarian regime
of the worst sort; public address systems spewing rot throughout
the town, posters everywhere espousing the system, fear of dissent.
Well, how about this for a startling premise: the American government,
as well as the educational system, engage in propaganda every
back to your school days. Every morning it was the same thing, wasn't
it? Stand up and say the Pledge of Allegiance. I haven't had to say
it for over 15 years, but I still remember it word for word, as you
may do. Let's take a moment and say it together: I pledge allegiance,
to the flag, of the United States of America. And to the Republic, for
which it stands, one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and
justice for all. Amen.
Ok, so the words of The Pledge are relatively benign (even though the
word "indivisible" also describes China's policy towards Hong
Kong, Taiwan and Tibet.). After all, who isn't for liberty and justice?
The whole God debate will soon be decided in courts as well.
But what The Pledge says is not the crux of the matter. The point is
that young Americans are forced to say The Pledge of Allegiance every
school day of their lives well over 2,000 times for most Americans!
What is the point of The Pledge, anyways? I mean, we're already Americans,
so why do we have to restate our position every day?
And while we're at it, what about the singing of the National Anthem
before every American sporting event that takes place? You also know
The Anthem by heart, don't you?
Why are these two seemingly benign slogans used, do you reckon? Could
it be to reinforce patriotism? Bring about loyalty? Propagate American
And forgive me for pointing it out, but isn't "propagate"
the root word of propaganda?
Thinking Outside the Box
Most of the people in the U.S. have relatively little knowledge of what
goes on in the rest of the world. In fact, irony of ironies, the typical
American's worldview is restricted due to the limited amount of international
information to which they are exposed. The easiest way to describe this
rather straightforward idea is to present an information-flow theory
I was exposed to while studying mass communications.
The main hypothesis posits that a nation of high-rank (i.e., possessing
economic, political, or military power) generates much more information
than a nation of lower-rank. Because of the higher amount of information
generated within the higher-ranking country, A) the population of that
country will have a great deal of domestic information to deal with,
and B) a significant amount of this information will be sent abroad.
On the other hand, the information produced by the lower-ranking country
will have a more difficult time entering the information market of the
higher-ranking country because the population of the higher-ranking
country, A) have adequate information from their own country to deal
with, and B) lack the motivation to attend foreign media due to that
country's lower status.
The practical side of this theory is that U.S. citizens receive a huge
amount of information every day that is generated within the U.S., and
information generated outside of the U.S .is seen as secondary in importance.
"Around the World in 80 Seconds", boasts the newscast of a
major American television network, as if that much time is adequate
to cover the nuances of international affairs.
That Americans lack news and information from the world at large is
no secret to people (especially Americans) who live outside of the States.
That many American tourists abroad appear uneducated, uninteresting,
and uninterested because of this is also no secret. However, to Americans
living inside of the U.S., this notion is completely unfounded and can
be very insulting.
Notwithstanding how domestic Americans view this widely-accepted idea,
I have come to see it as fundamentally true and was shocked and amazed
to discover I was once under its sway as well.
My knowledge of the above theory has led me to the following suspicion,
true or not: American foreign policy is just a series of calculated
"Fuck-yous" directed at other countries because the White
House not only knows about, but simply LOVES how American media drowns
out coverage of events that occur outside of the United States, thereby
keeping its populace in the dark about its actions abroad. Americans
are not dumb, but are grossly uninformed about the world and the actions
of the U.S. in it.
Homeland (In-) Security.
The Homeland Security website tells us that the world is a changed place
since Sept. 11, stating that the U.S. is at risk of terrorist attacks
and will remain so for the foreseeable future. Just about every month,
a new Al-Quida tape threatening American interests is released.
And so we have the Homeland Security Advisory System, which actually
tells us how to behave under certain conditions. Code Yellow! Should
we be guarded? Absolutely! We should be guarded and suspicious of people,
especially strangers (and those of Arab descent, of course).
The explicit message is, "Don't trust anyone, but trust us, your
government, because we are here to protect you from those who hate our
way of life, who hate our freedoms, who hate the United States of America!"
The climate of fear that the government created in the wake of 9-11
is unhealthy and unnecessary. When one goes about their daily routine
suspicious of others, on "Elevated Alert" status, the negative
energy that is created leads to a population concerned with just one
thing - survival. And according to Abraham Maslow, when one is concerned
only with survival, one has precious little time to devote to the important
things in life such as friends and family, learning, playing
in short, to having a life.
Since its inception, the Homeland Security Advisory System has never
been on Green, or Low Alert. In fact, as this goes to press, it stands
at Yellow Alert. We are under significant threat. We should live in
fear. Don't forget that.
And don't forget this quote by Hermann Göring, a Nazi Germany politician
and military leader, either: "Naturally, the common people don't
want war, but after all, it is the leaders of a country who determine
the policy, and it is always a simple matter to drag people along whether
it is a democracy, or a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a
communist dictatorship. Voice or no voice, the people can always be
brought to the bidding of the leaders. This is easy. All you have to
do is to tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists
for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works
the same in every country."
© Jim Curtiss November 10th 2003
all rights reserved