America and the Scales of History

Washington Times  1.06.98
Balint Vazsonyi

About two years ago, my words appeared on these pages for the first time. The article provided statistical evidence about the true nature of the so-called "National Standards for U.S. History" by analyzing the illustrations. Of the 55 plates, a mere 12 were relevant to the subject matter. More revealing of the authors' intentions, however, were the 18 images which depicted what they saw as "America the Horrible."

That was not my first time with the "Standards." I wrote a general critique in The Wall Street Journal on November 8, 1994, as soon as Lynne Cheney had sounded the alarm. The authors fired back, but not as extensively as they have done now in a book called "History on Trial" (Knopf, 1997). For the first time in my 61 years of existence, I find myself in a chapter entitled "The Right-Wing Assault"-and given first place at that.

Use of such a title, of course, identifies authors Gary B. Nash, Charlotte Crabtree, Ross E. Dunn as being on the "Left," and brings to mind the title of another book called "Leftism: An Infantile Disorder of Communists." It was written by Vladimir Ilyich Lenin.

But I do plead guilty to the charge of assaulting the "Standards" because, as quoted by the authors from my piece, they are based on a concept "developed in the councils of the Bolshevik and Nazi parties and successfully deployed on the youth of the Third Reich and the Soviet Empire. The recipe called for schools that dispense not knowledge but a compendium of selected events, personalities and interpretations. More important, knowledge was eliminated of such events and personalities as were deemed to have no usefulness by the ideologues or the Nazi or Bolshevik party (which also gave us the concept of political correctness)."

The authors are also correct in guessing that my first article was based on Lynne Cheney's description, without the benefit of acquaintance with their actual publication. But soon after they had become available, I did read the "Standards." And my analysis of the illustrations was a result of that reading. I found nothing in the "Standards" that would have caused the alteration of a single word in my first "assault."

And therein lies the lesson.

Some of us immigrants brought certain unsolicited political experiences along with the trade or profession we had learned in the "old country." Among these were the vocabulary, tools and practices of the regimes under which we had lived. In my case, that meant Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia. Both, in turn, kept Hungary occupied during my formative years. The "training" we received makes it quite simple to know in advance what people of similar ideological pedigree will write on a given subject. The selections, judgments and sermons contained in the "National Standards for U.S. History" were entirely predictable. Once you have seen the first page, much of the rest is a foregone conclusion. In the present case, I took Lynne Cheney's word, only to be confirmed by the first page - and the rest - a little later.

How the authors of the "Standards" came to think the way they do is the really difficult question. Why the authors so resent their country, their fellow-Americans, and themselves, is the really difficult question. What makes well-paid academics see history as a succession of abominations is the really difficult question.

Unless, of course, you recall that Marx, too, saw it that way.

Goodness knows, history has not been all cloudless glory. But presenting it as all horrible is as unrealistic as making it all wonderful. History is a record of what people have done. Since people will do good things and bad things, it stands to reason that history will convey a mixture of the two.

Yet, over time, most societies assemble a record that tends to be more negative or more positive. Thus the record becomes a sort of historic balance sheet. The "Standards" would have you believe that America's "balance sheet" is negative. I wish the authors and I could make a wager about the long-term outcome.

America, my wager would go, will be recorded as the country that afforded greater liberty for more people than any other.

America will be recorded as the country that produced constantly growing affluence for an ever-increasing number and proportion of its citizens.

America will be recorded as the country that never ceased critically to examine its own conduct, and that never ceased to search for improvement in every area of human endeavor.

America will be recorded as the country that has displayed unprecedented magnanimity in victory.

America will be recorded as the country that, like no other in history, sent its best and brightest to fight for the survival and liberty of others without expecting a single inch of territorial gain.

Any takers Mr. Nash?