As Columbus Day approaches I remember a conversation I had with my brother last spring. His daughter’s friend was studying to become a teacher and was having some difficulty digesting a new view of history. Gone were the fluffy stories of happily shared dinners with the natives and explorers bringing order to chaos. She was now learning the horrible truth behind the children’s tales. Brother was upset. How could “they” drag our heroes through the mire like that?
I was stunned; I still am, actually. I would hope that at University level the girl would be mature enough to handle the truth. If one is studying history, wouldn’t they want to learn the true history (or as close to the truth as we can get)? I’ve always felt that the point to studying history is to learn more about where we come from, what works and what doesn’t. We can’t change history but we can change the future and learning from the mistakes of the past helps us to do that. What benefit is there in lying about historical events? How can we learn from false history? How can we better ourselves if we can’t face our mistakes?
The world is rife with bloody tales. Not one war ever waged nor one civilization ever conquered has been without serious insult to humanity. Genocide, rape, pillage, slavery… are always part of the deal. This holds true not only for our past history but for the history we make today; whether in the name of exploration, in the name of the church or in the name of peace— to conquer means just that. As far as I know, no culture has been spared.
Perhaps it is time to reassess who we consider a hero or what we consider righteous. While we are at it, maybe we can finally accept that the past has been ugly and instead of blaming each other, (since we weren’t there at the time anyway), and thinking that “our people” are the only ones who have been wronged; realize that all of our ancestors have suffered indignities and that we hold the key to a better world.