Weaponizing History

[H]istory is increasingly employed as a simple bludgeon, which picks its targets mechanically—often based on little more than a popular cliché—and strikes.

The best example may be the evergreen argumentum ad Hitlerum … The detention centers on America’s southern border should be called “concentration camps,” according to Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. When questioned, the young, irrepressible Democrat advised Americans: “This is an opportunity for us to talk about how we learn from our history.” But that history isn’t ours. By invoking such an emotionally laden term, she was playing on a potent theme, but in a way that underscored the limited range of her historical reference, as well as the public’s.

A more disturbing example is the pell-mell rush to pass judgment against heroes of the past and tear down or rename the monuments to them … Are we really so faint of heart that we can no longer bear to allow the honoring of great men of the past who fail in some respects to meet our current specifications?

… [T]he transformation of history into a weapon depends upon a brutal simplification of the historical record. Such is the approach of the New York Times’s audacious “1619 Project,” which argues “that nearly everything that has made America exceptional grew out of slavery.”

The weaponizing of history corresponds invariably with a remarkable hostility to history. Its practitioners are content to slice a single fact out of a web of details, then repeat that fact with the stubbornness of protesters who have memorized a chant.

… Once history becomes a club, it quickly loses its credibility as history. The grossly exaggerated claims of the Times’s “1619 Project” are likely to bring on just such discredit.

… Our task is to recover the humane insight of Herbert Butterfield, who taught that the historian should be a “recording angel” rather than a “hanging judge”—let alone a summary executioner.

Wilfred M. McClay, The Weaponization of History.

Although McClay’s examples are from the Left, this is a game anyone can play, and we have been. Mark Bauerlein of First Things (which has been making high-stakes wagers with its credibility lately), for instance, very recently interviewed the old-but-still-irrepressible David Horowitz, who flung around “communist” with reckless abandon and referred to Dostoyevsy in The Brothers Karamazov writing a “damning portrait of the Roman Church” and its indulgences.

Entropy lives! (And kills.)

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