Saturday, 04 March, 2006

History Lessons

I finally made my way through History Lessons: How Textbooks from around the world portray U.S. history.  It's an interesting and sometimes amusing read, but not terribly enlightening.  Not surprisingly, most of the selections portrayed the U.S. involvement in world affairs negatively.  This is especially true of selections from North Korea, Cuba, and the Middle Eastern countries.

Most "approved" history texts smack of propaganda, even here in the U.S. where textbook approval is left to the states (and in some places to the individual school boards).  The books from North Korea and Cuba are really bad.  For example, North Korean junior high school students learn:

The troops of the People's Army defeated the American bastards over and over again on every battlefield.  Cornered in a dead end, the American bastards didn't know what to do.  The quick-tempered Americans finally signed the armistice on July 27th of the Juche calendar (1953) and kneeled down before the Chosun People.

The great victory of having beaten the Americans, this proud triumph and honor of our people, was the glorious accomplishment of our great leader (Kim Il-sung).

The North Korean descriptions of the Pueblo incident are similarly one-sided.

Cuba's students learn that the U.S. is actively engaged in biological war against their country:

Among the most criminal aggression that the US has carried out against Cuba [was] the spreading of toxic substances and germs over the island, causing the outbreaks of diseases that have affected people, plants, and animals.  Only a deliberate enemy action could [have] caused these epidemics in a country whose high level of public health care and flora and fauna protection is recognized by the most competent, specialized regional and international organizations.

To be fair, the book does shed some light on incidents that aren't well-covered in U.S. textbooks.  At least, not in any textbooks that I remember seeing.  The Spanish-American War, the Boxer Rebellion, the Philippine-American War (yes, there was one), and U.S. involvement in Latin America are just some of the topics that U.S. textbooks either ignore or mention only briefly.

The book does give some useful background information into what was happening in other countries during the time periods discussed.  That's something that often is lacking in U.S. history textbooks, and gives some insight into the reasons for many conflicts.  The views are understandably slanted, but that's to be expected.  After all, our textbooks tend to portray the U.S. in the best possible light.

Recommendation?  Mild.  I learned a few new things, which is always good, but not enough to justify the time I spent reading the book.  A history buff might get more out of it--especially some good laughs at some of the more slanted viewpoints.  But I suspect most people are better off spending their money and time on something else.