I finally got to start reading Eric Foner's Reconstruction, through which I learned of W. E. B. DuBois' Black Reconstruction in America. One of the topics of DuBois' work is the Dunning school's historiography of Reconstruction which was responsible for generations of Americans believing that Reconstruction was simply a tool for corrupt northerners to prop up incompetent negroes to which DuBois' contemporaries could happily say goodriddance. An example of DuBois' struggle with the zeitgeist at his time, from Chapter XVII "The Propaganda of History," and some commentary of how his struggle parallels our struggle with the zeitgeist of the Palestinian narrative:
Herein lies more than mere omission and difference of emphasis. The treatment of the period of Reconstruction reflects small credit upon American historians as scientists. We have too often a deliberate attempt so to change the facts of history that the story will make pleasant reading for Americans. The editors of the fourteenth edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica asked me for an article on the history of the American Negro. From my manuscript they cut out all my references to Reconstruction. I insisted on including the following statement:Just as the intelligentsia of DuBois' time refused to challenge its narrative about the freedmen being a bunch of incompetents, today's intelligentsia refuses to challenge its narrative about the uppity Jews dispossessing the native Palestinians so as to revive their abandoned and forgotten kingdom. Unlike American Reconstruction for DuBois, Middle Eastern reconstruction for us is a matter of the present and not just history. Thus, instead of historical works ignoring parts of the past complicating the desired narrative, today the news media, as documented by Matti Friedman, ignore events of the present that complicate their precious narrative.
White historians have ascribed the faults and failures of Reconstruction to Negro ignorance and corruption. But the Negro insists that it was Negro loyalty and the Negro vote alone that restored the South to the Union; established the new democracy, both for white and black, and instituted the public schools.This the editor refused to print, although he said that the article otherwise was "in my judgment, and in the judgment of others in the office, an excellent one, and one with which it seems to me we may all be well satisfied." I was not satisfied and refused to allow the article to appear.
War and especially civil strife leave terrible wounds. It is the duty of humanity to heal them. It was therefore soon conceived as neither wise nor patriotic to speak of all the causes of strife and the terrible results to which sectional differences in the United States had led. And so, first of all, we minimized the slavery controversy which convulsed the nation from the Missouri Compromise down to the Civil War. On top of that, we passed by Reconstruction with a phrase of regret or disgust.In most western discourse about the Middle East today, the role of the Holocaust is rightly recognized as justifying the need for a Jewish homeland. However, such discussion invariably devolves into questions of how much the "innocent" Palestinians should pay for the sins and crimes of Europe. What such questions ignore is the 13 centuries of the Pact of Umar in general and the half-century before the First Aliyah in the Levant and Arab resistance to the Yishuv in particular. Having whitewashed the Arab/Muslim crimes against Mizrahi Jewry out of our history, it is now permissible to publicize questions if Middle Eastern reconstruction should be brought to an end now the way American Reconstruction was ended 138 years ago.
But are these reasons of courtesy and philanthropy sufficient for denying Truth? If history is going to be scientific, if the record of human action is going to be set down with that accuracy and faithfulness of detail which will allow its use as a measuring rod and guidepost for the future of nations, there must be set some standards of ethics in research and interpretation.Now we get to the reason for why history was censored in DuBois' day. Today we recognize that allowing Jim Crow to emerge at the end of the 19th century is a stain on our nation's history. In DuBois' time, the stain would have been ever more real as Jim Crow was a present reality then. However, if the alternative to Jim Crow could be shown to be a perversion of justice, then Jim Crow could be tolerated as at worst the cost of righting a grave injustice and making it happen would have been a truly noble act. Such is also the case with Middle Eastern reconstruction. If it can be shown that the uppity Jews are guilty of unspeakable, unprovoked crimes against humanity, then giving them their comeuppance would not be such a terrible act. In fact, it would be a noble one. If the result of doing so is the reinstatement of the Islamic equivalent of Jim Crow, then it is at worst the unfortunate cost of seeing that justice is done. Such are the stakes of the narrative war.
If, on the other hand, we are going to use history for our pleasure and amusement, for inflating our national ego, and giving us a false but pleasurable sense of accomplishment, then we must give up the idea of history either as a science or as an art using the results of science, and admit frankly that we are using a version of historic fact in order to influence and educate the new generation along the way we wish.