Monday, May 07, 2007

Presidential Revisionist History 101

Today the President gave a speech with the Queen of England at the White House. The part of the speech that everyone is focused upon is where he thanked her for celebrating America's bicentennial in 17-- 1976. Which I gather was cause for high hilarity amongst the gathered supplicants, cronies, and press peons.

I went to read the transcript of the speech direct from the White House website and there are several aspects of it which deserve more attention than a near Presidential gaffe. I mean Bushism's are a dime a dozen. What gets me is a President who could actually espouse the following:
As liberty expanded in the British Isles, British explorers helped spread liberty to many lands, including our own. In May of 1607, a group of pioneers arrived on the shores of the James River, and founded the first permanent English settlement in North America. The settlers at Jamestown planted the seeds of freedom and democracy on American soil. And from those seeds sprung a nation that will always be proud to trace its roots back to our friends across the Atlantic.
The notion that the British "planted the seeds of freedom" is simply ridiculous! I wonder what the slaves who were brought to this continent under British colonial rule would say about that. I find it very instructive that the descendants of the very slaves Bush so conveniently forgets in his rosy history of British freedom find themselves in our times being disenfranchised from the vote in a systematic effort by the Republican party and Bush's cronies in the Justice Department. But I digress!

Let me guess... the speechwriter who concocted this blather is not an Indian. The original inhabitants of this continent count the settlement of Europeans as the beginning of the end of their freedom. The British brought this continent slavery, political misogyny, indentured servitude, and genocidal repression of the Indians who in fact knew freedom "civilized" mankind today can barely comprehend. The Presidents perspective is sadly one sided, representing only the outlook one could expect from the Great White Father in Washington D.C.

Ok... from the perspective of a white man, let me deconstruct Mr. Bush's take on the great democracy represented by British colonization through history. In fact, conveniently enough, Americas own history actually provides an excellent example of just how wrong Bush is... yet again! The authoritarian repression of our (then) English rulers (just against the white men alone not to mention the slaves, the Indians, the disenfranchised women folk and any one else not privileged to be a white male) was sufficient to cause a rebellion amongst their loyal subjects in the 13 colonies. Mr. Bush would be well served to read the Declaration of Independence to gain a sense of what drove our forefathers to go to war against the greatest military power of their times.

For that matter, a large part of our troubles in Iraq can be traced to the British drawing Iraq on the map in it's current state, and then having a bloody occupation early in the last century. The same pattern of repressive colonialism by Britain was repeated the world over with many rebellions and upheaval. Mahatma Gandhi, one of the most famous people in world history, gained his status driving out the repressive British government that ruled India with an iron fist. The history of British dominion around the world is filled with examples of brutality and bloody struggles by the oppressed to gain their freedom.

So President Bush talking up the great and benevolent history of the British spread of freedom around the world in the olden times of yore is quite frankly revisionist poppycock!

It is almost as if the President, only considering the friendship of Britain in modern times, is determined to rewrite the reasons that the United States of America came into being. That history should be remembered for what it is, and Americans who care about our history hold this portion of it in near reverence.

Sadly enough, the case may well be made that Bush's brand of freedom and democracy is modeled more closely upon King George the III's brand than upon that installed by the Constitution. Maybe from Bush's perspective, the British really did spread freedom after all, and he's more than happy to follow the example given by them through out world history.

Please don't get me wrong here. I don't intend for this to be anti-British. In fact I think on the whole the British are valuable allies. I love watching the Prime Ministers question time Sunday nights on C-span. This not an anti British rant: I intend this to be an anti historical revisionism rant!

This revisionism brings to mind the times recently that the President asserts that historians are still debating the grades for the Presidency of George Washington. Bush does this in an attempt to deflect questions as to how he thinks history will reflect on his administration. Quite frankly I'm not aware of any historian who would not place Washington in the pantheon of Great American Presidents, nearly all of them placing Washington in the top three, and many as number one. For Bush to call Washington's standing in history into question in a misplaced justification of the disaster Bush has led this nation into borders on the obscene.

President Bush's pronouncements on things historical could be taught in school as Presidential Revisionist History 101: A study in twisting history to fit modern day political discourse.

Sure, England was the worst country in the world. Except for all of the others. Modern concepts of freedom started in England with reforms such as the Magna Carta.

Gandhi didn't drive out the British. He was a pacifist. His peaceful non-cooperation pricked the British conscience and convinced them to end their colonial rule.

Things weren't perfect, compared to today's standards. But British colonialism did spread the seeds of democracy in many places, including America. Bush was right. You are wrong.
They spread the seeds of democracy alright, but it wasn't an intentional spreading. Bush was wrong. Ken is right.
Irrevelant. Bush didn't say anything about intentions.
Well... I thought about letting this ride but seeing as we have a bit of a thread going, let me describe exactly why I am right, and Bush was wrong.

What the British brought to the lands they colonized was repression of the local order in place before they "discovered" it. Nearly inevitably, native populations were repressed, enslaved and genocided.

The only system of representative government they brought applied to their own colonists, and to only the white males of that particular demographic. The norm was for the native population, or the colonists themselves, after having been repressed as happened in the case of the United States, to rise up against English tyranny, and install their own order, giving enfranchisement to the native population, or those aggrieved enough to rise up.

Frankly, the notion that the English spread democracy is in fact precisely the opposite of what the people originally living in the lands that were colonized experienced.

I haven't even touched upon the English history of slavery...
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