Historical misrepresentation

Other Names:
Distorted historical significance
Historical cover-up
Rewriting history
Historical revisionism
Distortion of historical events
Distortion of history
Suppression of historical information
Falsification of government historical records
Promulgation of historical myths
The process of rewriting extremely horrible historical episodes so that those responsible are exonerated is historical revisionism. Simply denying the reality of the event can easily be refuted. The most effective means of historical revisionism is to relativize the evil by pointing out that those responsible are no more evil than anyone else, or the victims of the event are partially responsible.
While "a nation is a community of shared remembering and shared forgetting", some nations have too much history and some too little. The Balkans, for example, has too much history which blurs the frontier between the present and the past - to be precise, too much bad, distorted history. Selective remembering and forgetting leads to tradition in the worst sense. The solution, however, is not no history but more better history - factual, accurate and multifaceted, a history which acknowledges its own crimes as well as those of others, without being a martyrology - a way of understanding the perspective of the other side.

A distinction is required between justice and truth in dealing with recent history. Justice is essential following crimes against humanity, such as in the Balkans and in Rwanda. And justice is better dealt with by an international tribunal than internally. By contrast, if there is to be a cathartic confrontation with the past, it must be from inside the country. A good example of that is the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa. Only by confronting the truth can we re-establish that all-important line between the past and the future.

For many years there have been a host of small groups in the USA, in Canada, in Europe and elsewhere that deny the reality of the Holocaust and endeavour to get this perspective accepted by the mainstream of historical scholarship. Other examples include the genocide of the Herero people in southern Africa, and the collaboration between industrialists of the USA and the Nazi regime. History textbooks in Japan do not refer to Japanese aggression during World War II. Photos claiming to be of Mao's Long March, the storming of the Winter Palace in 1917 and the Viet Minh victory at Dien Bien Phu were taken of staged events, under better conditions. Movie makers are becoming the West's most powerful historians, but not necessarily the most careful. Films like "Mississippi Burning", "Gandhi", "Killing Fields", "Last Emperor" and "Cry Freedom" may be fine or even excellent films, but they are not historically accurate even though they are often thought as such.

In 1990 a committee of historians in the USA accused the government of falsifying the historical record by censoring its publications of official USA diplomatic documents, despite the openness shown by the USSR concerning its own history. The incident concerns the role of US intelligence in post-war foreign policy and the manner in which the published editions of diplomatic archives are sanitized to exclude almost all references to the Central Intelligence Agency, and specifically with the role of the CIA in preparing the coup which brought the Shah of Iran to power and which eliminated the liberal-left Arbenz government in Guatemala. Unmistakeable evidence has been found of dramatic and devastating changes in editorial policies and processes which govern the publication of diplomatic history over past decades.

A political system that allows a single source of information about events is, at least, presenting history from a single perspective and, at worst, manipulating history to its benefit. Efforts to promote the misleading impression of government non-involvement in specific historic events constitute a gross misrepresentation of the historical record, sufficient to deserve the label of fraud. Although it has long been accepted by historians that some editing of government archival material is necessary to protect intelligence sources and methods, this censorship process has become increasingly blatant to the point of bringing the integrity of the entire historical record into question.
Counter Claim:
Those who claim that history is being revised have their own equally biased and distorted view of events. And while these biases may be popular, they, nevertheless, are interpretations based on an ideology that has narrow perspectives.
Problem Type:
D: Detailed problems
Date of last update
02.12.2017 – 17:08 CET