Monday, May 11, 2009

History, v 2.1

Time Magazine ran an interesting and chilling article online yesterday: Russia Moves to Ban Criticism of World War II Victory. The article documents an attempt by the Russian government, sliding in popularity as a result of the economic crisis and the poorly-run war in Georgia, to bolster its pride and credibility by making it a crime to deny that the Soviet Union "won World War II," to imply that it's generals in that war often recklessly and needlessly sacrificed the lives of their soldiers, or to criticize the performance of the government of Josef Stalin and the Communist Party as anything but heroic and masterful.

Historical revisionism is nothing new, and attempts to whitewash the embarrassments of the past are common among all governments. But what makes this particular law (officially called "The Law Against the Rehabilitation of Naziism") so shocking, in my humble opinion, is that the precedent cited for it is the laws enacted by many nations to make "Holocaust Denial" a crime.

I'm on record as stating that criminalizing denial of the Holocaust is a tragic and stupid action that simply plays into the hands of those who believe the most monstrous and well-documented crime in history was no big deal. Those who pass off such sick drivel deserve to be heard and their asinine beliefs exposed, proven false, and ridiculed. An empty-headed buffoon like Iran's Mahmoud Ahmedinejad can embrace Holocaust denial and claim that it simply reflects the actions of a sinister Jewish conspiracy to hide the truth - a laughable position easily buried under mountains of evidence. But when a major world power uses well-intentioned, but stupid laws criminalizing Holoucast denial as a rationale for enacting laws to whitewash its own well-documented criminal ineptitude in the face of the Nazi menace, historians have to shudder.

I love the study of history, and I know that our historical beliefs are often revised in the face of newly-discovered evidence. But the shameless denial of actual events teaches us the wrong lessons and tells those who would deny the crimes of their past that it's okay. It trivializes history and complicates the present.

Denial of the Holocaust, Turkey's insistence on not facing up to the Armenian "genocide," Japan's whitewashing of its government's and army's actions during World War II, and the refusal on the part of a few Americans to face the legacy of slavery and Jim Crow are all examples of the denial of the historical record. And, as the philosopher Santayana is so often quoted as saying, those who fail to learn from the past are condemned to repeat it.

Face and acknowledge the past, and move on. The truth hurts for a while. A lie can hurt a lot longer.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.

Bilbo

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

Bilbo:

I agree completely with your points, but just remember Russia is demographically doomed; its population sinks every year. Pretty soon you'll be able to buy a nice little dacha for just a few almighty Yankee dollars (or maybe some Chinese scrip) and spend your summers ordering serfs around.

You know who.

Mike said...

New law - Nobody can talk about ANYTHING unless they know for sure that what they are saying is the absolute truth and can prove it.

That should quiet things down considerably - everywhere.

SusieQ said...

I just want the truth, whatever that may be, to always prevail in the end.