I am a student of history. I mean that in the broadest sense. Academic historians are affixed to a certain period in a certain geographical area. I’m a generalist. My two favorite eras/places are Renaissance Italy (for politics, not art), and the central Asian steppes from the beginning of time to the present. But still, I am a generalist. Ancient historians are not considered reliable because they “stretched the truth”. I agree. However, I can give you several instances in which the history of the “Watergate” scandal of the 1970’s has been stretched to the point of breaking in the most accepted narratives, and yet both the public and professional historians eat it whole, because it fits the media narrative that has been around since the day after the break-in. I’m sure the same could be found of the history of the British Raj or the American Civil War. Roman Procurator Pontius Pilate said it best: “What is truth”?
In the America of the late 1950s and early 1960s, I was taught that truth is truth. “What really happened!” The culture that I grew up in was more cut – and – dried, black and white (mostly white), protestant Christian. It wasn’t until years later that I learned that “truth” has a great deal to do with perspective, and that one truth may depend upon a string of other truths, all inter-related. Doubt one truth and you find yourself doubting them all.
When the “final” Justice Dept. report on the Ferguson shooting of Michael Brown was released, the final nail was put into the “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot” coffin. Even the most racist, left-wing justice department in a century could not find evidence that Michael Brown either said “Don’t shoot”, or put his hands up. It doesn’t matter. People from politicians, sports celebrities to street thugs have popularized “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot”. Most of them know by now that this never happened. It doesn’t matter. It expresses their frustration at being continually harassed by police, most of the time for very good reason. It is something to fling in the face of “The Man”. It is not the truth, but their truth. Whether or not it actually happened, it illustrates for them what could have happened, and has happened, even if not in Ferguson.
Let me make it clear that these events are not limited to Leftist ideals. Conservative politicians can mutilate truth with absolutely as much finesse as any socialist. Let’s be honest; the conservative specialty is commerce. Whether products or finance, the conservative absolutely excels at “making money”. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that in my book. They shy away from fields such as academia and related enterprises, mainly due to the relatively low salaries attached to those professions. So when the expert on the Middle East tries to explain to the congressional committee why the latest scheme to turn BFE into Bedford Falls won’t work, the Republicans go nuts. They know zip, zilch, nada about Islamic culture, but they are absolutely sure that everyone wants to be an American. “This guy is obviously a commie! If it will work in Indiana, it will work in BFE!” This is their truth. Their truth comes from personal experience, which has probably never had a conversation with a village Arab, or any Arab or Muslim who didn’t graduate from Oxford or Harvard Business School.
In Sunday School in 1966, I couldn’t quite figure out what Pilate meant.
I know now.