The Wages of History The Wages of Ignorance

Paul Olson 
UNL Emeritus Professor

Speaking Our Peace Graphic

Swift in his “Digression on Madness” speaks bitterly of happiness as the “possession of being well-deceived; the serene peaceful state of being a fool among knaves.” 

If such is felicity, then we have it. Knaves lead us: e.g. the White House lying us into Iraq, the Bernie Maddow company stealing millions from Elie Weisel’s “Foundation for Humanity,” Goldman Sachs betting against the derivatives it advised clients to buy; Union Pacific energy advertisers touting clean coal as they peddle away life on earth.

But what of we fools who follow? How did we come to linger, innocently deceived, in the valley of knaves. Many kinds of mythmakers fool us—talk radio, 24-hour television, shouted political discourse, lobbyists, political liars. But we are complicit. 

We are ignorant of history because we do not seek to know it; nor do we demand it for our children. Consider the current Texas textbook censors. Thirty five years ago, the Gablers of Texas, a fundamentalist husband and wife team began to shape a generation of history and science teaching by asking such questions as “Why did a history textbook give more space to the French Revolution than to the American…? Were not Vietnam and Watergate overemphasized? Was Robin Hood a hero, as the text claimed, or a dangerous advocate of income redistribution?” The Gablers manufactured creation-science to counter serious study of the genetics of species change. An ignorance factory, they leave their successors in present Texas statewide book selections that assure the nation’s ignorance. 

Two further examples of ignorance-manufacture: one related to justice, the other to peace: 

First, Injustice-related Manufacture of Ignorance: Racial tensions have been stirred in Nebraska by the national anti-immigrant organization, ‘FAIR.’ Although it purports to oppose only illegal immigration, the organization has been designated a ‘hate group’ by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) for demonizing virtually all Hispanics and conflating ‘undocumenteds’ with ‘documenteds.’ According to the SPLC, FAIR has “promoted racist conspiracy theories about Mexico’s secret designs on the American Southwest and an alternative theory alleging secret plans to merge the United States, Mexico and Canada.” Such outrageous claims are clearly intended for their shock value, to rouse white Americans to action. I know of no significant Hispanic group that presently proposes such a scheme. But historically speaking, this kind of turnabout would be fair play. 

In the 19th century, immigrants from the American South settled Mexican Texas with the goal of extending slavery (Mexico had banned the institution there). The U.S. government then annexed this ‘free’ Texas, prompting Mexico to declare war. (Lincoln and many other Americans knew that the Mexican-American War was a war to extend slavery.) When the war ended with Mexico’s defeat, slavery not only grew, the U.S. disallowed the property rights guaranteed to Mexican citizens under the “Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo” and the promises to treat them as Caucasians. 

That’s the ‘ancient history’ behind the ‘immigration problem’ that neither FAIR nor our media and political image-makers ever bother to share. Here’s something more recent, that’s every bit as historically pertinent…

The final version of the North American Free Trade Agreement passed under the Clinton Administration in 1993 rejected the ‘social protocols’ basic to the charter of the “European Union.” Under EU agreement, the poorer parts of Europe—Portugal, southern Spain and Italy, and other impoverished zones—received support from the Union’s more prosperous parts. Progressive Democrats in Washington fought for a set of social protocols, but most Republicans and outfits like the “Heritage Foundation” vilified it. And Bill Clinton accordingly caved. 

As Anuradha Mittal, director of “Food First,” observed in 2003, on the tenth anniversary of NAFTA’s passage:

Mexico, a country once self sufficient in basic grains, today imports 95 percent of its soy, 58 percent of its rice, 49 percent of its wheat, and 40 percent of its meat. This has resulted in Mexican corn farmers being put out of business. More than 80 percent of Mexico’s extreme poor live in rural areas, and more than 2 million are corn farmers. There is no way they can compete with subsidized American agribusiness. Everyday, an estimated 600 peasant farmers are forced off their land.

Our manufacturers of ignorance ignore these facts. FAIR does not tell us. For them, Hispanics are bacteria growing in a petri dish. We, happy fools led by the knavery of corporate image-making—in Fremont, in Arizona, at the ‘Tea Parties’ and in Nebraska’s government—ignore our history. We do not do penance for its evils. We create no constructive immigration policy beyond simple amnesty or walls with armed guards. 

Second, War-creative Manufacture of Ignorance: After nine years in Afghanistan and seven in Iraq, our ignorance factories are goading us into yet another shootout—this on with Iran. We hear regularly how Ahmadinejad was fraudulently reelected (I believe he was), how Iran is a military state (it is), and how a perfectly innocent Green group protester was murdered by the “Revolutionary Guard” during recent post-election protests (she was). 

But Rush Limbaugh never mentions that in 1953 the CIA orchestrated the ouster of the democratically elected prime minister of Iran to protect international petroleum interests. He fails to note how we imposed the brutal Shah’s police state there. No one recounts how his torture-adept secret police, “Savak,” had a permanent secret U.S. mission attached—how its torture of putative enemies included shocking their genitals, raping them, cooking them in electric toaster-like wires, burning them everywhere with cigarettes, sodomizing them, and slicing their bodies apart with bacon-like slicers. These techniques Savak learned from the CIA (see Robert Fisk, The Great War for Civilisation). 

Not surprisingly, when the theocracy of the Ayatollah Khomeini replaced the Shah, his regime was equally brutal. We daily lament that Iran may possess a nuclear weapon in two years. We should be equally alarmed that we have possessed thousands of world-destroying nuclear weapons for more than 60 years. Iran’s neighbor Israel possesses from 80-400 nuclear weapons. The ignorance-manufacturing factories never discuss the alternatives to our sanctions, to conventional military attacks, or to the threat of a nuclear bombing of Iran by Israel. To date, the most authentic challenge to Ahmadinejad and the power of the ayatollahs has come from the Iranian “Green Movement,” which is is based on the nonviolent theories of Gandhi, Martin Luther King and Gene Sharp. But you don’t hear the ignorance-manufacturers reporting that.

Peace and justice grow from accurate depictions of history. Ignorance cannot understand the anger of others, and reconciliation never comes without truth. Given our checkered history, we have no business standing in the role of judge or asking the UN or World Court to adjudicate wrongs in which we are complicit. 

History is not, as Napoleon is reputed to have said, “a set of lies agreed upon.” It is events recorded—verified from numerous perspectives. Respect between nations and rational problem-solving requires nothing less.

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June 19th 2010

American Wetback - It seems that home schooling is the only alternative to the brainwashing by the far and near right. As always when something happens, "we" are the innocent victim. We have not caused death and destruction all over the world for our selfish interests in the name of national security. It needs to stop now . The republicans are scared that if there is immigration reform we will all become democrats and rightly so. As "Bill Maher" said "Republicans are not racists, but racists are republicans.