The Winner’s Tale

“Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past.” –George Orwell

            In a world where over half of the population doesn’t know when World War I happened, it seems as if people may fall for anything they hear. In a world where people’s views and decisions are affected by social mindsets, what they fell for may never even be doubted.

There must be a reason why in most schools, the curriculum ends with World War II and never goes through an in-depth study of the Cold War. There must be a reason that American Adventures defines the Vietnam War so: “Later in the 1950’s war broke out in South Vietnam. This time the United States gave aid to the South Vietnamese government.” There must be a reason that the Boston Massacre is called a massacre even though only five people died (most historical events labeled as massacres from 1645 to 1840 resulted in more than one hundred deaths). The reason is related to the American government’s influence over the way its students are educated; or, the way the most world’s most powerful country portrays the tale of its history.

The Cold War was a 44+-year period of political tension in which the United States and its allies participated in an arms race against the Soviet Union, and in which both parties developed nuclear weapons with the potential to destroy the planet and both parties promised “mutually assured destruction.” The Vietnam War was a “byproduct” of the Cold War in which the United States intervened, committing hideous war crimes upon thousands of people (including during the My Lai Massacre); but in which only 23 soldiers were ever tried, and if any were sentenced, it was almost never for more than one year. The Boston Massacre occurred during the American Revolution, and was depicted by patriot propagandist Paul Revere in his famous engraving.

The Cold War ended with the fall of the Soviet Union, which many perceive to be a capitalist (or Western, or United States) victory over the communists (or Eastern, or Soviets). However, it was a war which resulted in several proxy wars and thousands up on thousands of deaths, as well as advances in nuclear technology that many argue did much more harm to our planet than good. In fact, to many, the Cold War was a blemish upon history, a shame on world powers for seeking world domination. They were ready to forget the gory details.

The Vietnam War was a proxy war. The United States at first supported South Vietnam’s noncommunist leader, but then allowed his assassination. During the war, United States troops from all divisions killed, tortured, assaulted, and injured the Vietnamese, leaving about 6,000 dead. The war was declared over in 1974 when President Gerald Ford ordered the evacuation of all American troops and Vietnamese sympathizers. In this way, the Americans “lost” the war. The Vietnam War is not covered in history classes in America until Advanced American Studies in high school.

The Boston Massacre resulted in five deaths. Compared with the millions who died in the Vietnam War, five may not seem like much. However, American propagandist Paul Revere exaggerated the event in his famous engraving of the scene, even including a dog bravely facing the British soldiers. America went on to win the Revolutionary War. Today, America is the world’s most powerful country. The Boston Massacre appears to have kept its name. In Britain, however, it is referred to as the Incident on King Street.

Though America is often called “the land of the free and the home of the brave,” it has a darker past than all bravery. During the 19th century, Americans worked to expand west; this included the removal of the Native Americans through mass extermination, forced marches, and biological warfare in order to establish white supremacy. An estimated 95% of the Native Americans were wiped out. Today, Native Americans make up about one percent of America’s population, and less than one percent of that number earns any type of degree. The era of Native American genocide is not called Native American Genocide; it is called “Westward Expansion.”

After the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the Americans moved the Japanese Americans who lived near the Pacific Coast to “War Relocation Camps” in a movement known as Japanese American Internment. President Roosevelt passed Executive Order 9066, which stated that local military commanders could designate “exclusion zones.” Thousands of Japanese were excluded or moved to internment camps. Coincidentally, in most World War II curriculum, the focus is mainly on the war overseas or the economic impact of the war in America; almost never on American action to avenge Pearl Harbor within the country.

We live in a world where the people who win write the stories, the people who lose don’t tell the stories, and the stories are constantly changed and rewritten by the societies who wish to maintain a certain mindset. In the United States of America, the most powerful country in the world, where people move for opportunities, hope, and justice, there appear to be holes in its education; holes which omit the dark parts of its history and exaggerate the bright ones.

It will one day be driven to a point where America’s past follies will fade into the realms of the forgotten, and its population will believe the country to be close to perfect; but the rest of the world may have learnt the story differently. History itself will be mutilated to fit the molding of each society that tells the tale; the truth about what really happened may disappear somewhere along the way.

America, world power, establisher of justice, world police, has a story. But it’s alright to doubt the story’s validity. For, as George Orwell once said, “Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past.”


Essay By Jade A. Tang

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