History: Propaganda with Footnotes
We define civilization as an organized society with writing. An organized society with oral history is therefore uncivilized. It’s pre-historic, you see, no matter how sophisticated it may have been. History is what is written and historians quote ancient writings and subsequently each other to provide accurate history. I like history, do you? Historians perform worthy work-but there is a problem.
The elite of any given society are the ones who hire the scribes to write it. Obviously, those elites want to look good and the scribe’s job is to accentuate the positive and eliminate the negative, so to speak. This makes much written history just propaganda with footnotes.
“History will be kind to me, for I intend to write it” – Winston Churchill said. Also attributed to him is “History is Written by the Victors.” So Churchill is seen as a big hero, more so in the U.S. than in Britain apparently, since he was voted out by a landslide there when the war ended.
History is political propaganda and, let’s be honest, we think it’s THE TRUTH-because isn’t it in writing? Yet dig a little deeper and you find, for one thing, that Columbus’ crew did NOT think the earth was flat, that little dramatic lie was added by novelist Washington Irving in A History of the Life and Voyages of Christopher Columbus, published in 1828. Wars are always portrayed as pure goodness vanquishing inhuman evil. Yet the truth is always more nuanced than that.
Kings habitually hired scribes to write terrible things about previous kings, so they would look better by comparison. Victors label the losers as sadistic devils to bolster their own shiny heroism. So be a bit skeptical about the history you think you know.
As I read of the rise and fall of empires, I notice 1). that all empires fall-100%. 2). They usually fall apart when the OOTs (Oligarchs on Top) want more wealth and power and they start tearing each other apart. Then the people they have been oppressing see the weakness and rebel. This is a recurring pattern from the Mongols to the Romans.
But have you ever wondered how it was for the regular people, people like you and I? Did the regular people much notice when the ‘Roman Empire’ died? Or did life go on pretty much as always: find food, build shelter, hope the next batch of OOTs is better than the last? How was life for a regular soldier during WWI, never mind the prima donna generals.* How was regular life in ancient Egypt?**
Questions from a Worker Who Reads
by Bertolt Brecht
Who built Thebes of the 7 gates?
In the books you will read the names of kings.
Did the kings haul up the lumps of rock?
And Babylon, many times demolished,
Who raised it up so many times?
In what houses of gold glittering Lima did its builders live?
Where, the evening that the Great Wall of China was finished, did the masons go?
Great Rome is full of triumphal arches.
Who erected them?
Over whom did the Caesars triumph?
Had Byzantium, much praised in song, only palaces for its inhabitants?
Even in fabled Atlantis, the night that the ocean engulfed it,
The drowning still cried out for their slaves.
The young Alexander conquered India.
Was he alone?
Caesar defeated the Gauls.
Did he not even have a cook with him?
Philip of Spain wept when his armada went down.
Was he the only one to weep?
Frederick the 2nd won the 7 Years War.
Who else won it?
Every page a victory.
Who cooked the feast for the victors?
Every 10 years a great man.
Who paid the bill?
So many reports.
So many questions.
(Napoleon crossed the Alps, but not on a fiery stallion. He wasn’t stupid and didn’t want to fall to his death, so he rode a mule. The stallion painting was commissioned by him as fake news)