The Dangers of Rewriting History

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The Dangers of Rewriting History

This past week Sarah Palin was in Boston, and she was asked to recount the midnight ride of Paul Revere. When I initially saw the video two things came to my mind: first how much of history has ‘changed’ since I learned it as a kid, and second how obviously caught off-guard she was by what looked like a ‘gotcha’ question in spite of being at the Old North Church … one of the key sites in the tale of Paul Revere.

I would have dismissed this as yet another instance of Palin demonstrating how she lacks substantive knowledge of pretty much anything without proper coaching, but for two things: first off how she took to Fox News to restate her claims and defiantly say she knew what she was talking about … and even worse how a bunch of her supporters took to Wikipedia in an attempt to rewrite the entries on Paul Revere to make her version of events ‘historically accurate’.

Here is a basic approximation of what she said:

“He who warned, uh, the British that they weren’t going to be taking away our arms uh by ringing those bells and making sure as he’s riding his horse through town to send those warning shots and bells that we were going to be secure and we were going to be free and we were going to be armed.”

While the tale has evolved somewhat through the years and the simplified version we learned as children is woefully inadequate, at no point was a STATED PURPOSE of any of his rides to warn the British soldiers about anything! And let’s face it, the ‘British’ she is referring to are soldiers. The primary goal of the infamous ride was to inform rebel leaders in Lexington about British soldiers who we en route to arrest them.

But again, that really doesn’t matter. It is the inability to say ‘I was wrong’ that is troubling – and worse still is Palin having a major news network willing to give her free reign to falsify history rather than accept that she is fallible like everyone else … and also a loyal legion of zealots willing to falsify history in her name. Heck, even Michele Bachmann, when she mistakenly identified Lexington and Concord as being in New Hampshire immediately admitted and noted her mistake.

We all make mistakes – it is how we deal with our mistakes that reflects upon our character. That is something I learned as a child, and seems to be something that many politicians could use to re-learn. We have seen too many instances recently where politicians have used their power and influence to make bad choices – and then to try to cover up those choices to avoid the consequences. [cough coughWeiner]

The first thing that really bothered me was how Palin took to Fox News to adamantly state that she was correct – and of course that in spite of being in the Old North Church, she was once again being subjected to ‘gotcha’ journalism. You can watch the video of it here, but two quotes stood out for me:

“Part of his ride was to warn the British that we’re already there.”

And

““I know my American history,” Palin says. “You know what? I didn’t mess up about Paul Revere. Here is what Paul Revere did. He warned the Americans that the British were coming, the British were coming, and they were going to try take our arms, so we got to make sure that we were protecting ourselves and shoring up all of ammunitions and our firearms so that they couldn’t take it.””

Um … no. History.com tells us a succinct version of events upon the infamous night (celebrated as Patriot’s Day in Massachusetts):

The highlight of his Whig activity came the night of April 18-19, 1775, when on Joseph Warren’s orders he crossed the Charles River and rode to Lexington to warn Samuel Adams and John Hancock that British troops were coming through on their way to Concord. Revere got the word to the radical leaders, but a British patrol prevented any further progress.

So we have established that Sarah Palin not only got history wrong – again, no big deal – but arrogantly stated her correctness while using once again an incorrect telling of events. Really no big deal – is anyone pretending that Sarah Palin is the first arrogant and self-important politician or public figure? And let me say that while I am singling out Palin, this isn’t about politics – there are plenty of idiots on both sides of the aisle!

But for some reason a number of people have applied some sort of martyr strategy to Sarah Palin – ever since Katie Couric failed to serve up the softball questions Palin had gotten used to answering and refused to accept fluff for answers. Since then, many folks have adopted a victim mentality for her. Again, someone’s politics is their personal business, and disagreement and discourse can often lead to much greater things than polite agreement.

But that isn’t what is happening – these supporters are taking Palin’s words as absolute truth, and immediately dismissing as politically-motivated smear-tactics anyone who would question her absolute correctness on everything. It gets even worse, with them rewriting the historical accounts on WikiPedia in order to MAKE PALIN CORRECT!

My kids get stuff from their teachers reminding that WikiPedia isn’t a valid source, because … anyone can edit it! If there was a need for a reminder, we are having a great year. First there were the Justin Beiber fans who defaced Esperanza Spalding’s WikiPedia page, and now this. Here is a section of the Paul Revere entry that was edited, with the added elements bolded:

“Revere did not shout the phrase later attributed to him (‘The British are coming!’), largely because the mission depended on secrecy and the countryside was filled with british army patrols; also, most colonial residents at the time considered themselves British as they were all legally British subjects.”

This was corrected and re-edited several times until the entry was locked.

But it shows something scary and dangerous – that our country has hit a point where there is a large group of people willing to use ‘truth’ as a hammer to shut people up, and when that truth doesn’t match the facts then it is time to change how the facts are recorded rather than accept that maybe, possibly, you just might be wrong. There are folks out there trying to use history to draw super-scary analogies about other history-rewriting times from the last century … but that is just engaging in similar tactics in reverse. This is the United States in 2011 … and we should know and do better ourselves, and demand better of those who would seek to lead our country.

Source: Washington Post, CBS, and others

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About the Author

Michael Anderson
I have loved technology for as long as I can remember - and have been a computer gamer since the PDP-10! Mobile Technology has played a major role in my life - I have used an electronic companion since the HP95LX more than 20 years ago, and have been a 'Laptop First' person since my Compaq LTE Lite 3/20 and Powerbook 170 back in 1991! As an avid gamer and gadget-junkie I was constantly asked for my opinions on new technology, which led to writing small blurbs ... and eventually becoming a reviewer many years ago. My family is my biggest priority in life, and they alternate between loving and tolerating my gaming and gadget hobbies ... but ultimately benefits from the addition of technology to our lives!