Cascoly Books: History as a Work in Progress

Cascoly Books - History as a Work in Progress

This is in response to the question

"Is it immoral or unethical to re-write a portion of history?"

I'm surprised so many responders KNOW the answer so definitively. for example, one response was:

"Yes it is immoral and absolutely wrong. History is just that it is the record of what happened and should be kept for all time"

and another responder was more tentative:

"Absolutely, positively, freakin-a-right ... it is immoral and unethical to re-write ANY portion of history... , History exists to teach and inspire. Hindsight is always 20/20 but if we start changing the way it went down we are dooming ourselves to repeat destructive behavior"

First, all history is constantly being re-written. We learn more all the time, and what's written is filtered by the current way of thinking. New facts emerge as more documents are exposed, uncovered or interpretted. Eg, Timothy Garton Ash in The Files shows what happened to friendships and marriages when the secret police records [Stasi] of East Germany were daylighted in the early 1990s.

Second, who gets to choose what history is or is not? Even facts are unreliable. was there an actual attack on US ships in the Gulf of Tonkin? how much did the New Deal have to do with ending the depression? Did Saddam have weapons of mass destruction?

Third, to answer the original question more directly, who's doing the rewrite? for what purpose? novelists write historical fiction all the time; some becomes embedded in what many people think of as history [eg, Washington standng in a boat while crossing the Delaware, or throwing a dollar across the Potomac, etc] History is always a subjective process and the best we can hope is that historians tell us what their particular biases are so that we can try to form a consensus. Howard Zinn goes on at length about this in 'Declarations of Independence'

The farther back in time we go, the harder it is to write a definitive history:

  • Who were the Aryans?
  • What really went on during the Trojan War?
  • What were the causes of the [fill in your favorite] war?
  • How did the pope emerge as the ruler of Christians?
  • Why did Islam spread across Asia and Africa so fast?

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