The lions of Texas are on the loose. As the ancient African proverb predicts, they have found their historian. The powers that be in the old Republic of Texas, now in name at least a state in the Union called The United States of America, have decided to rewrite the History schoolbooks. They have voted to remove Thomas Jefferson, founder of the University of Virginia and third President of the United States, from the list of those taught as being influential in forming American ideals and values. Jefferson is being replaced by a contemporary woman from Illinois named Phyliss Schalafly. I'm not kidding. They really did that. Ms. Schalafly is best known for her love of Jesus and her hatred of gays, liberals and progressives of all kinds including feminists. Many people are taking this historical detour very seriously, just as they take History very seriously. They shouldn't.
The old African saying goes -- "Until lions have their historians, tales of the hunt shall always glorify the hunter."
What exactly is History? And, who writes it?
H.L. Mencken called History "legend." What's more, he defined such legend as "a lie that has attained the dignity of age." Mencken's contemporary, Ambrose Bierce was a bit clearer. "History," he postulated, was "an account mostly false, of events mostly unimportant, which are brought about by rulers mostly knaves, and soldiers mostly fools." The distinction, if such a one existed, was arguably put to rest by George Santayana, who in an attempt to end all discussion on the matter, simply said; "History is a pack of lies about events the never happened told by people who weren't there." Well, what more is there to say?
Like Thomas Jefferson, you probably won't find Mencken, Bierce or Santayana in the History books used in Texas schools. In addition to Ms. Schalafly, it's now mandated that the musings of Newt Gingrich be taught to all of Texas' school age youngsters. Gingrich has nothing in common with Mencken, Bierce or Santayana. He is, however, on the same page -- now in Texas anyway quite literally -- with Phyliss Schalafly.
What you may think is the real meaning of History is your own business -- so long as you're not enrolled in any of Texas' public schools. I find myself in agreement with Ernst Toller, an early 20th Century German poet and playwright, a professor at Heidelberg University who said, "History is the propaganda of the victors." Sadly, Toller thought those victors were sure to be the forces of Nazism and he killed himself in a New York City hotel room in 1939. Those who say Hope lives forever should have told Toller.
What the new Texas History books will say about Ms. Shadfly isn't hard to figure out. While she has nothing at all herself to say about History, the man she's replacing in the curriculum, Jefferson, said this: "A morsel of genuine history is a thing so rare as to be always valuable." In order to come up with that, don't you think he probably had a good idea that someday he would be kicked out of somebody's schoolbooks?
Screwing around with historical accounts is nothing new. History and Truth have never been mistaken for the same -- not by historians. Nineteenth Century French historian Fustel de Coulanges had the clarity (or arrogance) to declare: "I open my mouth and History comes out." Those who have written History have always been aware of their responsibility as well as their opportunity. While no one really knows who was the first to say, "History is written by the winners," the 5th Century BC Greek, Herodotus, wrote this instructive analysis for all future historians: "Very few things happen at the right time," he said, "and the rest do not happen at all: the conscientious historian will correct these defects." So it is in Texas today. An act of correction; a repair of defects. Are they not in the great tradition of the Father of History himself? Those who are so damn angry with the Texas School Board are positive they know what History is. The lions of Texas feel the same way.
The big difference between History in this modern day and History ages ago is technology. We see the changes being made -- like in the sausage factory. Another former US President -- who as far as I can tell is still in official Texas History books -- John Quincy Adams one wrote: "The public history of all countries, and all ages, is but sort of a mask, richly colored. The interior workings of the machine must be foul." Through the magic of the Internet and the 24-hour news channels, we are all witness to the "interior workings of the machine" in Texas. Some may think it stinks most foul. Others find it a breath of fresh air. Mencken and Bierce, if not Santayana would no doubt be laughing.
In Texas, that Jeffersonian morsel may be shrinking out of sight. But those who object should not be fooled that this was unforeseen. "Woe unto the defeated, whom history treads into the dust." So spoke Arthur Koestler in "Darkness At Noon." What else did you expect in Texas -- Rachel Maddow?
History is not the only academic discipline being eaten for lunch by Texas' lions. They are feasting on Sociology, Economics and who knows what's next? Can't wait until they get to Music and Art.
For those who don't like conspiracy theory (even without the capital letters), how can you avoid the obvious? All lions in captivity have trainers, don't they? Who's training this herd of Texans? Perhaps we would all do well to remember the foreboding words from Benjamin Disraeli: "The world is governed by very different personages from what is imagined by those who are not behind the scenes."
A word of warning as well to the gluttonous lions of Texas. Don't sleep too soundly after your big meal. There will always be more hunters.