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Americans and Historical Amnesia » Counterpunch: Tells the Facts, Names the Names

What Americans just don’t get is that most people see history differently than they do. In order to break this down, every semester I show Robert Wuhl’s HBO special “Assume the Position 101.” Wuhl proposes that U.S. history is Pop Culture and he discusses different events in American history and its American take.

The first myth that Wuhl explores is that of the Founding Fathers. If they were as smart as American exceptionalists say why, Wuhl asks, does the first sentence of the U.S. Constitution read?

“We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

Wuhl roars, “more perfect!?” How can something be more perfect? It is or it isn’t. According to Wuhl, it is a “grammatical fuck-up.”

He goes on to show how American history is constructed from myths. Wuhl says that when the truth contradicts the legend, the truth has to go. Wuhl gives the example of the film “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.” When the Jimmy Stewart character tries to explain to the local newspaper editor that he did not shoot Liberty Valance, the editor won’t hear it, packs up to leave and says “…when the legend becomes fact, print the legend.”

This is true about most aspects of American history: Columbus discovered America. Thanksgiving Day showed the friendship between the colonists and the Indians. The colonists fought against the tyranny of the British, and even as a child I learned the story of George Washington cutting down the cherry tree that was treated as the truth.

How many people still believe the myth that the United States won World War II by itself? Americans forget that Russian suffered around 26 million casualties versus just over 400,000 for the United States.

Americans consider themselves a generous people and look at the criticism of rest of the world as ungrateful. They cite the Marshall Plan as an example of this generosity. According Americans, it saved post war Europe from economic disaster, forgetting the financial benefits reaped by American capital.

Many Africans and Latin Americans take issue with the myth of American generosity.

From 1890 to the present there have been at least sixty U.S. military interventions into Latin America and this does not include the Indian Wars, the annexation of Florida in 1819, the Texas War 1836 and the Mexican American War of 1845-48.

Americans are surprised to learn that these narratives are part of Latin America’s popular culture. Even the great Nicaraguan poet, Ruben Dario, who was hardly a revolutionary bitterly complained about the actions of Theodore Roosevelt:

“You are the United States,

future invader of our naive America

with its Indian blood, an America

that still prays to Christ and still speaks Spanish.

****

You think that life is a fire,

that progress is an eruption,

that the future is wherever

your bullet strikes.

No.

The United States is grand and powerful.

Whenever it trembles, a profound shudder

runs down the enormous backbone of the Andes.

If it shouts, the sound is like the roar of a lion.

****

But our own America, which has had poets

since the ancient times of Nezahualcóyolt;

which preserved the footprint of great Bacchus,

and learned the Panic alphabet once,

and consulted the stars; which also knew Atlantic

(whose name comes ringing down to us in Plato)

and has lived, since the earliest moments of its life,

in light, in fire, in fragrance, and in love–…

God! O men with Saxon eyes and barbarous souls,

our America lives. And dreams. And loves.

And it is the daughter of the Sun. Be careful.

Long live Spanish America!

A thousand cubs of the Spanish lion are roaming free.

Roosevelt, you must become, by God’s own will,

the deadly Rifleman and the dreadful Hunter

before you can clutch us in your iron claws.

And though you have everything, you are lacking one thing:

God!

So you see, Fidel Castro did not invent anti-Americanism which is a product of history rather than jealousy or communist propaganda. Anti-Americanism was forged by history and if we went back in time and eliminated Castro, these feelings would not be erased. Only in knowing the causes can we corrected them.

It is like when my wife gets angry with me and I ask why and she answers, “Whatever.”

READ THE FULL ARTICLE HERE: Americans and Historical Amnesia » Counterpunch: Tells the Facts, Names the Names.

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