Revisionist History

We all rewrite our own personal histories when we don’t like the outcomes, the truth “sends the wrong message”, or we find the truth of a given situation too embarrassing to admit.

For example, during the days of my mas macho youth, I told people that I cracked a tooth as a result of a bar fight. A bar fight conjures up images of a dangerous, volatile man on the edge, fearless and indifferent to potential harm as testosterone pumps through his ripped body. I liked that image, so I revised the truth ever-so slightly to reinforce that picture.

In reality, I did crack a tooth. And a bar was involved. But that’s where the story takes a sharp turn into something mundane and even embarrassing.

The bar that cracked my tooth didn’t involve a tavern, County/Western Music, or even alcohol. No, my bar was a long, bent piece of rebar that I tossed into a dumpster at a construction site. While throwing  the pipe overhead like a javelin, I didn’t notice the bent hook on the end of the piece of steel. The bar struck me in the back of the head, and the whiplash cracked a tooth in half!

Now, doesn’t “bar fight” sound better than “I hit myself in the head with a thirty-pound, ten-foot length of pipe while pretending to be an Olympic athlete”? Yeah, some history needs to be revised, because if a self-inflicted blow to your head doesn’t kill you, embarrassment might.

Individuals aren’t the only ones who take an eraser to unflattering events. Governments, religious leaders and academic groups often rewrite subjects they don’t like.


Just over the weekend, my daughter mentioned in passing that her school, Jefferson Junior High, is revising their mascot and symbol, the Patriots. Why spend money designing, replacing and printing new artwork?

Because the original Patriot mascot carries (wait for it…) a GUN!

Apparently, some group in the school system has a problem with that image because they:

(1) Don’t like the outcome? (guns were used to liberate the colonies from British rule, allowing America to become a sovereign nation),

(2) The truth of guns and the founding of our nation “sends the wrong message”? (But which message is the wrong one? That “Every man has the right to be free?” Or “People should resist tyranny?”), or

(3) They find the truth–that without guns we would all be speaking with an English accent–too embarrassing to admit?

I can think of other parts of history that I want to see removed because they embarrass, offend, and anger me:

  • Slavery. Bad idea then, bad idea now. But take it out of History books. Dwelling on the past distracts us from the present. And it has no bearing on today, does it?
  • Hitler. That the nation of Germany, and, for a time, the rest of the world, turned its back on the atrocities committed by the Nazis and their leader, is unconscionable. Teaching kids that stuff will just upset them. Take it out.
  • The Cold War. The former Soviet Union and the United States spent gabillions of dollars trying to make the other nation blink. What a waste of resources! We should have just tried to get along with the USSR. And besides, who doesn’t like vatrushka and vodka for breakfast?

Maybe history should be based on records of actual events, even when hindsight proves certain actions or ideas to be upsetting to current sensitivities. Perhaps history should be taught in the context of the time when it occurred instead of trying to match it with whatever popular opinions are held at the moment.

But that’s just me. I like history and feel compelled to know it, all of it: the good, the bad, and the ugly.

“My name is Scott, and I’m a recovering pretend javelin thrower in my Olympic fantasy.” What truth about yourself are you wishing to revise or erase?

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