It's a common truth that history is recorded by the one left standing on the battlefield. Simply recording the events doesn't make it history though, because history involves the subjects willingly passing along the information; thus, they need to perceive it as a palatable truth. Here we have two main operations which make history very delicate: 1) willing passage, and 2) the perception of truth. Note that neither of these involves a self-check mechanism, and although there have been (and will be) brilliant historians and public intellectuals proactive and neutral about the grey areas, much of history is passed on by normal people who like to tell self-affirmative stories.
Self-affirmative stories are not always vitriolic and incendiary, and are actually more effective when they're coated in sugar. Hitler exploited this early in his career through primarily advocating a pro-German affect, rather than an anti-Semitic one. By the time the German workers were energized, it required very little effort to get them to aim their resentment and self-pity toward a target. Thus, cultural-memory and identity tales are very often smooth and silky, the equivalent of value-system Yes-Men, hiding the fact that they're spinning a tale in the first place. I remember how in my early educational years, when learning about world affairs, America was always the White Knight. Not the diplomat, not the scorned go-gooder, but the unabashed White Knight. It took me a little while to observe this and wonder how it's possible for one country to universally and automatically do the right thing. My curiosity was only reconciled when I realized that certain events were being omitted, like the Japanese American Internment of 1939, and others were being manipulated to serve the storytellers' purpose, like the obliteration of the Native Americans. To boot, we were passively taught through pictures and selected historical accounts that the Native Americans only occupied parts of the desert and the lowlands areas, which is nothing but a manipulative untruth to justify the genocide the storytellers culture waged. Since history is a flowing river rather than a stagnant pond, it's channeled from one generation to the next. Facts thus swiftly become tactics rather than accounts of our history.
Perpetuation of mistruths and outright untruths is quite simple when you're "on-top." However, every regime eventually falls. What happens to those mistruths and untruths that were so effortlessly passed along? Either they're dismissed, or the passing continues, with the new on-top culture unknowingly passing another culture's ornamentation of the truth. Orwell recounts this messiness on page 534: "During part of 1941 and 1942, when the Luftwaffe was busy in Russia, the German radio regaled its home audience with stories of devastating air-raids on London. Now, we are aware that those raids did not happen. But what use would our knowledge be if the Germans conquered Britain? For the purposes of a future historian, did those raids happen, or didn't they? The answer is: If Hitler survives, they happened, and if he fall they didn't happen." So we started with an un-truth, and if the Nazis won, it would still be untrue however it would be in alignment with the outcome of the war, so historians would have quite the challenge on their hands. And this isn't unique, it happened in America's recent history in our desire to overthrown Saddam Hussein. We found evidence of weapons of mass destruction, right? Colin Powell said so. But when we made our way over and scoured the land, we found none. What they did find was that Powell was lying. It's the same situation as the Luftwaffe air raids: If they found WMD's, how would the lie have been treated over the course of history? It would've simply been a truth, since the effect was in alignment with the erroneous cause. This manipulation of facts and events as tactical devices produces no map "which is universally accepted because it is true: in each case you get a number of totally incompatible answers, one of which is finally adopted as the result of a physical struggle." (p. 535) Previously, the function of war is to settle unreconcilable disputes, however, from where I'm standing it looks like the function of war is to determine history.
Although history has been a device used to perpetuate untruths, not every form of government is equally bad. America's a great example, it tells as many untruths as any other nation in power, however the critical spirit of democracy allows the common man to voice an opinion about his elected officials without him or his family being killed or maimed. A Totalitarian regime allow no such latitude. Why would it? It's interest is to make the public values your sole private values. Why wouldn't it surveil it's citizens? If they're breaking the paradigm they're a risk to the system as a whole, which cares for them. Totalitarianism isn't just a government, but a religion, due to the extremity of its superstitious civic, political, and economic beliefs. Thus, it's so confirmation-biased that it "attacks the concept of objective truth: it claims to control the past as well as the future." (p. 535) 1984 is a fantastic representation of a functioning Totalitarian regime. Throughout the story, history was changed multiple times, and not just distant history. We're talking about events that happened a few weeks ago. In order to reconcile certain overlapping and interconnected events, things that directly happened to people were rewritten as having never happened at all. This is how Totalitarianism manages the wake of chaos their self-righteous superstition creates. And this isn't just a novelistic representation of what could happen. This was a fictional reproduction of events and tendencies that actually happened in the tremulous early half of twentieth century Europe.
Click the RSS FEED button below to receive notification of new Orwell 365 posts.