June 30, 2009

Attack of the Historians

President Obama appears to be raising the ire of many historians, who've been taken aback by his astounding lack of historical knowledge.

Below are two pieces by two historians, for those who are students of history and anyone else who favors facts over lies, "noble" or otherwise.

(Somewhat long, but definitely worth the read...maybe over the upcoming holiday weekend?)

National Review Online  |  June 29, 2009

Obama and the 'Noble Lie'
Our philosopher-king prevaricates on behalf of us all.

By Victor Davis Hanson

For much of the Bush administration, the media splashed stories of neoconservative conspiracies and cabals. Exposés about mostly Jewish liberals-turned-conservatives charged that they were adherents of the philosopher Leo Strauss and embraced the Platonic notion of the "noble lie."

In his Republic, Plato outlined an elaborate, ranked utopia, a good city ("Kallipolis") run by a sort of benign natural selection. The philosopher-kings sat atop hierarchies in which occupations were assigned for the citizenry. To justify arbitrary selections, the rulers would make up "noble lies" about divine edicts, making clear that the occupations chosen for lesser folk were god-given.

Once the inferiors understood that there were divine sanctions behind their lot in life, they would feel happier. And society at large would benefit by each worker's having the proper aptitude for his occupation. The larger point Plato was making was simply that sometimes an all-knowing elite must hedge on the truth to convince the ignorant public what is good for it.

Other Greek authors likewise were willing to give an educated elite wide latitude. Many aristocrats, such as the historian Thucydides, felt that religion was a sort of superstition of the ignorant masses. But he tolerated it as something deserving support by rational leaders, inasmuch as it provided a valuable bridle on the dangerous appetites of the mob. Some of our own Founding Fathers were deists — rationalists who may have believed in a creator, but believed even more that adherence to religious ritual among the more ignorant and potentially dangerous classes was critical for a good society.

The Left charged that President Bush was surrounded by wannabe Guardians who, via the work of Leo Strauss, bought into Plato's argument. Therefore, according to their critics, they played fast and loose with the truth (Saddam's ties with al-Qaeda, WMD in Iraq, etc.) in order to scare clueless Americans into accepting the invasion of Iraq and waging a war on terror. These "noble lies" were deemed necessary, since the authoritarian threats from the Middle East after 9/11 were, in fact, real, and the public otherwise would never have appreciated the mortal danger to our country.

No accuser, however, was ever able to demonstrate a pattern of sustained, premeditated prevarication on the part of neoconservatives. How, after all, had Platonic Straussians taken over the government from WASP or African-American realists like Bush, Cheney, Powell, Rice, and Rumsfeld? In most cases, "neo-con" ended up simply as an acceptable anti-Semitic slur to describe Jewish intellectuals who supposedly put Israel's national security on a par with, or above, our own.

The irony is that during the Obama administration's first six months, we have seen ample evidence of noble lies.

The first category is the historically inaccurate statement designed to... more here.

Pajamas Media  |  June 30, 2009

Procrustean History: Obama Manipulates the Past to Fit the Narrative
How the president and other revisionists cut and stretch the truth.

By David Solway

President Barack Obama's famous (or infamous) Cairo address of June 4, 2009, has been subjected to the unrelenting scrutiny of many reputable observers and distinguished political scholars - and found egregiously wanting. It is replete with distortions, fabrications, lacunae, misconceptions, inaccuracies, lies, exaggerations, and outright historical fallacies. There is scarcely a passage without its resident howler. I do not have the space to run through this near-interminable list here - anyone with a decent knowledge of history or ready access to a search engine can trawl for himself - but I will provide two exemplary instances of historical error.

As has been repeatedly pointed out, Obama's allusion to Islam's "proud history of tolerance" which can be seen "in the history of Andalusia and Cordoba during the Inquisition" is a blooper of major scale. Islam flourished in Cordoba chiefly during the tenth century; the Inquisition began to wreak its havoc toward the end of the fifteenth. If the president can drop five centuries from the historical calendar without skipping a beat, one is surely entitled to suspect the pondered validity of many of his other calculations.

Less conspicuous but no less telling is his blunder respecting the initial, de facto recognition of the United States. For Morocco was not the first country to recognize the U.S., as Obama mistakenly, or disingenuously, claimed. The honor goes to the Netherlands, via its Caribbean dependency of St. Eustatius one year earlier. On November 16, 1776, on the authority of the island's governor, Johannes de Graaf, an American warship flying the Grand Union Flag was given an armed salute, thus officially recognizing the United States as a sovereign nation. (Some say the Danish island of St. Croix got there several weeks earlier, but the record is unclear.) For this act of lèse majesté St. Eustatius was bombarded by the British. The price paid by this brave little island might have been worth remembering.

Obama is a classic example of a shrewd but poorly educated political impostor who has managed to achieve immense power - not very different, except in the outer gloss, from, say, Venezuela's Hugo Chavez. But Obama's flagrant ignorance, or deliberate rewriting of the historical record, is only an expression of a much larger and indeed commonplace tendency to misconstrue the past in the interest of a set of comfortable preconceptions. This is, at bottom, among the main reasons he was elected: he reflects both the cognitive deprivations and jaundiced mindset of what has come to be called "liberal" culture. And "liberal" culture in the West is pretty much the name of the game these days.

We live in an era in which those who actually know and study history are becoming a vanishing breed. Instead, we embrace "narratives" that play fast and loose with even the most ascertainable facts in order to maintain a favored reading of political and historical events, in other words, to reinforce our prejudices or emotional needs. We do not scruple to invent "truths" if necessary and, as if we were reprising the antics of Procrustes, have no compunction in either racking or dismembering the annals of the past. In the contemporary milieu, it is almost as if having truth on one's side - demonstrable truth - is a liability or a very weak ally, a highwayman's quarry.

As a result, the crisis in which the West now finds itself is largely... more here.


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