The engineering of history

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The engineering of history

  1. 1. History is perhaps the one social concept most subject to abuse. Human conduct is significantly influenced by past experience. Control of the past can have a dramatic effect on the perception of the present, and hence on the direction of the future. For these reasons, history is often subject to manipulative interference, in order to induce a certain, preferred, social perception. Left: A poster in Bolivia that reads: “What once was ours, will be ours again”. The loss of its coastal territories to Chile in the War of the Pacific in 1880 has left a deep emotional scar in Bolivia. Diplomatic relations between the two nations remain frozen today. Right: Pope Benedict XVI with Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I. The Sack of Constantinople by Crusaders sent to protect Byzantine Christians in 1204 was the final nail in the irremediable division of Christianity into the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church. The Great Schism , as it is now known, is yet to be fully reconciled. Note: All facts, figures and photographs sourced from Wikipedia unless stated otherwise
  2. 2. Far from documenting fact, the presentation and perception of history is often biased. As with much else in the world, perceptions of history are influenced by personal opinions and social norms, and hence are liable to be biased. When these biases seep into social memory, they come to establish a vicious circle of fallacy: biased perceptions lead to biased social norms, and biased social norms dictate biased perceptions. The National World War II Memorial in Washington, DC. Perhaps as a demonstration of America’s blinkered and self-absorbed view of the world, the main inscription 1 at the Memorial reads, “World War Two, 1941-45’. This wouldn’t be an issue by itself, if not for the fact that World War Two actually began two years earlier , in 1939, and that 1941 was just the year that the U.S. was drawn into the conflict. 1. No Simple Victory: World War II in Europe, 1939-1945, Norman Davies, Viking, Sep 2007 Photograph: Washington
  3. 3. History is sometimes used to reinforce certain pre-approved political narratives. A necessary criterion for the success of such social conditioning is the manipulation of inconvenient historical facts. Left: The Anschluss . When Adolf Hitler marched into Austria in March 1938 in pursuit of a ‘Greater Germany’, jubilant Vienna greeted the Fuhrer with unbridled enthusiasm. Over the course of the war, more than 1.2 million Austrians would serve in the Wehrmacht and around 180000 in the Waffen-SS, constituting about a third of the Schutzstaffel 1 . Yet, after the war, Austria would come to portray itself as a victim of, rather than an accomplice to, Hitler’s Nazism. Right: The Liberation of France. Canadian troops after ‘ liberating ’ Caen in July 1944. But where are the cheering crowds? Massive Allied bombardment reduced much of Caen into rubble, an unnecessary and useless war effort that killed thousands of French civilians but hardly affected the Germans. Repeated devastating bombing all across Normandy extinguished enthusiasm for the Allied ‘liberation’, and ensured lukewarm reception. Yet, after the war, the world would be told of the French universally welcoming the ‘liberators’ with open arms. 1. Fascism: Critical Concepts In Political Science, Roger Griffin & Matthew Feldman, Routeledge , Dec 2003 Photograph: Caen
  4. 4. The manipulation of history is often subtly hidden under pretenses of nationalism and populism. Left: The Church on Spilt Blood in St. Petersburg. Russia’s ancient capital city has been known by multiple names according to the political compulsions of the times: St. Petersburg under the Russian Empire, Petrograd when the earlier name was considered “too German” during WWI, Leningrad in Soviet times, and now again as St. Petersburg since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Right: The Central station in Madras (now Chennai). The site of the first British settlement in India was renamed Chennai in 1996, ostensibly to restore its “indigenous” flavour. However, it is questionable whether either name is indeed any more or less indigenous than the other, and the only tangible objective of the entire exercise seems to have been the erasure of the city’s British ancestry.
  5. 5. The appropriation of symbols is among the most prominent manifestations of the manipulation of history. The manipulation of symbols is a direct display of intention, authority and power. Since symbols appeal to the collective social psyche, their manipulation etches a deep and vivid emotion in cultural memory. Left: The Hagia Sophia in Constantinople (earlier Byzantium, now Istanbul). The seat of the Patriarch of Constantinople, focal point of the Eastern Orthodox Church, and arguably one of the most important centres of Christianity was converted into a mosque following the Ottoman conquest in 1453. After serving as a mosque for nearly 500 years, Turkey converted it into a museum in 1935. Right: The erstwhile Babri Masjid in Ayodhya. The focus of the most vicious and intractable dispute in India is the birthplace of Lord Ram. One of the holiest and most venerated places of Hinduism, the temple at this site was demolished and a mosque built instead by the emperor Babur in the 16 th century. The mosque itself was torn down by a mob in 1992, and today the site remains closed to the public.
  6. 6. The engineering of history is a powerful weapon for successful social conditioning. Social conditioning can only succeed when social memory is engineered, and social memory can only be engineered by engineering history. Left: Government-issued school textbooks in Pakistan claim that India was part of Pakistan until partition in 1947. Right: The “Peaceful Liberation” monument in Lhasa. The Chinese government portrays the 1950 invasion of Tibet as a liberation of Tibetan serfs from oppressive land owners and monasteries.
  7. 7. When history is to be engineered, denial and falsification become tools of convenience. Left: The Armenian Genocide . Despite its widespread acceptance as such, the government of Turkey refuses to acknowledge the systematic extermination of nearly 1.5 million Armenian Christians by the Ottoman Empire during WWI. Right: The Katyn Massacre . The Soviet Union not only denied the execution of nearly 25000 Polish military officers by the NKVD in April 1940, but in fact propounded the myth that the mass murder was the action of Nazi Germany. This patent falsehood was propagated by the USSR and its client States (including Poland itself) until the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1990. Photographs: Armenia , Katyn
  8. 8. An indirect consequence of social conditioning is the selective acknowledgement of history. Since personal perception is heavily influenced by societal factors, the history an individual assimilates is a direct result of the social memory he is exposed to. Almost everyone that passes out of a half-modern system of education is familiar with the horrors of the Holocaust under Nazi Germany, but how many are aware of the equal horrors of the purges , the deliberate famines and the slave labour system of the Soviet Union? Left: Forced labour at the Buchenwald concentration camp. More than 6 million Jews were slaughtered in ghettos, concentration camps and extermination camps throughout the Third Reich. Nazi persecution lasted 6 years: 1939-1945. Right: Forced labour at the Belbaltlag gulag. Anywhere from 15 to 30 million 1 peasants, workers, political opponents and other “enemies of the people” perished in the Gulag system of slave labour camps in the USSR. Bolshevik persecution lasted 38 years: 1918-1956. 1. Encyclopedia Britannica Photographs: Buchenwald , Belbeltlag
  9. 9. The erasure of social memory is the ultimate expression of social engineering. Left: The Bamiyan Buddhas. The magnificent Buddhas carved into the Afghan hillside in the 6 th century were intentionally destroyed by the Taliban in 2001. Right: The Vanishing Commissar. A photograph that was retouched by Soviet censors to remove the presence of Nikolai Yezhov. When the People’s Commissar for Internal Affairs (head of the NKVD) fell out of favour with Joseph Stalin in 1940, his very memory was ordered erased from public records. Ironically, Stalin himself suffered a similar fate after being denounced by Nikita Khruschev in 1956.
  10. 10. Such wanton engineering of history is tantamount to the damnation of memory. And, as with much else, the damnation of memory is itself a carryover of social memory. The Romans, for instance, called this practice Damnatio Memoriae . A Tondo of the Severan family with portraits of Emperor Septimius Severus, his wife Julia Domna, and sons Caracalla and Geta. Geta’s faced was erased following the Damnatio Memoriae ordered by his murderer and future emperor Caracella. The damnation of Geta’s memory has caused irreversible loss to history and as such there is much that posterity will never know about him.

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