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Kevin Bunkley Headshot

History Can Still Matter in America

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Ten years ago, I was sitting in my high school public speaking class, confused, listening to our principal over the PA system describing something that was happening in New York City (our school was without cable that day due to some construction). As more information came in, we were released from school early, and I spent the remainder of the night watching television, learning the name of Osama bin Laden. This is of course recent history, but lately, when certain presidential candidates and other leaders talk about anything in the past, they get things (read: facts) wrong. It's a pattern: America is suffering from chronic Revisionist History Syndrome.

Over the last year, three memoirs from the Bush Administration have been released, former Vice President Dick Cheney being the newest just this week. He joins President Bush and former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. Each seems to have clouded versions of events they were all in the room for. They can't agree on the events surrounding fighting a war against terrorists, but factions of the public whittle it down and the entire Muslim faith is blamed for killing Americans. The most genius thing I ever heard Bush say was when he publicly reassured the Muslim world that, "ours is not a war against a religion, nor is it a war against the Muslim faith." But Bush also turned around and thought expanding executive power was akin to President Truman and his Secretary of State Dean Acheson making hard decisions to fight the Soviet Union. "In Truman's era, we were in the early years of a long struggle. We had created a variety of tools to deal with the threats," Bush writes. But wiretapping is not the same thing as creating NATO. Similarly, in Cheney's and Rumsfeld's minds, America is still the infallible chest-pounding son of a bitch that will ask questions after everyone else in the room is beaten into submission.

Bush at least understood the facts about the enemy America faces. Bush wanted to deal with Iraq later, Cheney and Rumsfeld sat in the shadows plotting a way to get him to hasten the timetable, all because of some revenge fantasy that would be executed in the name of freedom instead of reality, and Bush's own book tiptoes past this. Facts tell us that all three men were duplicitous in some regard, but their own words leave the full facts conveniently absent. When people question Cheney about anything, or Rumsfeld about adequate troop levels for the wars, the answers reek of distortion, because it's easier to revise and evade long after the fact when no one is paying attention than be honest and be crucified for it. "I knew of no military officials who believed that the 'Desert Storm on Steroids' war plan would be appropriate for the current circumstances," Rumsfeld writes. So that must be why H.R. McMaster, author of Dereliction of Duty, studied the Vietnam War and convinced Gen. Petraeus and others that roughly a 3:1 ratio of troops entering Iraq was needed to win a counterinsurgency. Three men guilty of trying to shape their own legacies, and history gets thrown to the back shelf.

Does history matter in America? No, the facts of convenience matter. It's insulting when Michele Bachmann can't remember which state the War for American Independence began in or its purpose; the meaning of The Civil War is distorted to make it seem like one side was favored by God and the other a mash-up of aggressors who wanted to free the slaves; Americans don't pursue the reasons why Afghanistan and Iraq aren't working; people argue over Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King's legacy in the context of it being some kind of moral outrage that a black person be allowed to attend college without fear of being attacked with fire hoses and coon hounds; the claims that the progressive agenda ruined America by allowing people who aren't white actual rights of citizens.

All of these concepts are connected. This is my field that is being attacked and dismantled at the whims of people who care nothing for the imprint it leaves. Ten years ago I began to try to understand why some men from Egypt and Saudi Arabia would murder civilians taking trips on airplanes. Figuring out the answer to that question is no different than trying to understand why a group of British colonists set out to found the world's first democratic nation, or why a president would suspend the rights of and order the killing of his own citizens in the interest of keeping the country a country.

Facts tell me that the Civil War was about the division over how involved government was to be in the affairs of states. Lincoln said about the war on July 4th, 1861:

[It is] a struggle for maintaining in the world, that form, and substance of government, whose leading object is to elevate the conditions of men -- to lift artificial weights from all shoulders -- to afford all, an unfettered start, and a fair chance, in the race of life.

The Revolutionary War began in Massachusetts and wasn't a mandate against government, it was a mandate for a peoples' government. "The Revolution was in the minds and hearts of the people," John Adams once said. The Great Society and New Deal didn't create a liberal takeover of social programs, they created stronger social programs that allowed the economy to live longer. Dr. King, who now has a memorial here in Washington, D.C. dedicated to him, didn't preach unfair advantage to minorities, he preached the hope for Americans to have the same opportunity. Our two wars aren't ongoing because they're working, they're ongoing because democracy isn't supposed to work in that part of the world, and Americans don't lose wars. Status Quo.

I'm just an individual investing myself in separating fact from myth because I don't settle for ignorance, but increasingly, myth has been packaged as fact. I don't like where this is going because I enjoy facts, and I enjoy properly understanding the precedents that our country claims to follow. Though if we really are heading toward a world without facts, President Obama may actually be Hitler, a socialist, a communist, a Kenyan, a terrorist, a Muslim, and an alien. It'd make an interesting history book, but one that has no basis in things that have actually happened to this point. And that's the danger. In this environment, it would get published.