Destroying History or George Bush Just Made My Job Much Harder

Somebody please tell me how I am supposed to teach my students to think critically about the past and understand it in all of its complexity when our president’s view of the world is so unsophisticated.

The war we fight today is more than a military conflict; it is the decisive
ideological struggle of the 21st century. On one side are those who believe in
the values of freedom and moderation — the right of all people to speak, and
worship, and live in liberty. And on the other side are those driven by the
values of tyranny and extremism — the right of a self-appointed few to impose
their fanatical views on all the rest. As veterans, you have seen this kind of
enemy before. They’re successors to Fascists, to Nazis, to Communists, and other
totalitarians of the 20th century. And history shows what the outcome will be:
This war will be difficult; this war will be long; and this war will end in the
defeat of the terrorists and totalitarians, and a victory for the cause of
freedom and liberty.

I understand that he is playing to his political base here and that most reasonable people will give it little thought.  Still, it is extremely frustrating that this man seems unable to move beyond an overly simplistic reductionism that fails to draw even the most basic distinctions between very distinct historical movements.  Isn’t it standard practice in our classrooms to steer students away from the Nazi/Hitler analogies?  They are bad rhetorical devices and nothing more.   Why don’t we just throw out the curriculum if all my students need to know is that they were all bad.

And this man spent part of his summer reading Albert Camus?

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10 comments… add one

  • Eric Wittenberg Aug 31, 2006

    Kevin,

    Sadly, calling that man stupid is an insult to stupid people.

    It’s that overarchingly simplistic view of the world that got us stuck in the Iraqi quagmore in the first place, and is why we will never get out of it as long as he occupies the White House. 2008 cannot come soon enough.

    Eric

  • David Woodbury Sep 1, 2006

    Kevin,

    Maybe you can teach them to think critically by examining the effectiveness of calculated misinformation and message manipulation. They could examine the public record of the administration’s pronouncements, and the Bush team’s current denials about how the war was sold. then try to explain why even today polls show that a high percentage of people believe Saddam was behind 9/11.

    These questions cover a lot of ground, but hopefully a conscious awareness of the relentless propaganda in our own society will be worth the corresponding dose of cynicism your young students will come away with.

  • elektratig Sep 1, 2006

    Kevin,

    I must say, you’ve lost me. The passage you quote does not assert that fascists and communists are identical, or that fascists and communists are identical to the current Islamisist threat. It does assert that they they share a common totalitarian impulse and represent a similar threat to free societies. Not only is that true; it’s about time somebody said it.

  • Kevin Levin Sep 1, 2006

    David, — I agree there will be plenty of opportunity to discuss the way history is used within a political context. Unfortunately, this administration has provided more fodder than most.

    Elektratig, — If you take the president’s words along with the sec. of defense, and the vice-president over the last few weeeks the implication is pretty clear. You say they share a “common totalitarian impulse”. I am not even sure what that claim involves, but if there is some type of connection does it really help us to understand in any way what we are dealing with in terms of Radical Islam? Seems to me that such statements are designed to turn off critical thought rather than to encourage it.

  • Michael Aubrecht Sep 1, 2006

    First, let me begin by saying that this arch-conservative abandoned the Republican party a couple years ago – in favor of common sense and accountability – which is something that neither party practices nowadays. Your quote is a wonderful example of how just far the bar has been lowered…

    So I do see your point Kevin, but I will have to agree with the reference “the right of a self-appointed few to impose their fanatical views on all the rest”. This, at least to me, is a good (although immature) definition of the motives behind religious-terrorists = Muslim extremists. If they are simply looking at it from the standpoint of “extreme groups” forcing themselves (at times violently) on the people around them, then I guess the Nazis and Commies are a legitimate example. However, there is so much double-talk and jibber-jabber in the script books of this administration, who knows what they really mean. Hopefully, God will bless the Independents, cause the rest of the parties are morons.

  • Ignacio of Loyolla Sep 4, 2006

    Although I value your opinion and find it highly educated, there must sadly be a rift between us upon this posting of your blog. You must realize that when the President gives a speech, he is addressing not only the audience members, but also the greater masses known as the American public. And if statistics serve me correctly, the majority of this mass will have no true comprehension of the fine distinctions between the parties which the President references (i.e. the Fascists, the Communists, etc.). Thus, in order to drive his point home in the clearest manner, and as quickly as possible as well, there are some generalizations which must be made. Doubtless the President cannot give an entire history lecture on the podium detailing the distinctions between these historical movements; this is the job of history teachers such as yourself. Thus, rather than making your job harder, this speech enhances it and gives you more material upon which to draw on when teaching about these historical movements. The students, if they listened to the speech, now understand that these movements were considered “bad” by the American governemnt; your job is to clarify just exactly why they were considered bad.

  • Chris Sep 5, 2006

    Well, perhaps be thankful you’re not in Iran…

    HEADLINE: Iran head wants liberal teachers ousted

    “TEHRAN, Iran – Iran’s hard-line president urged students Tuesday to push for a purge of liberal and secular university teachers, another sign of his determination to strengthen Islamic fundamentalism in the country.”

    Link:
    http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20060905/ap_on_re_mi_ea/iran_university_purge

  • Kevin Levin Sep 6, 2006

    Who needs to worry about the president of Iran when we have extremists like David Horowitz to deal with.

  • Chris Sep 6, 2006

    … please, are you serious?

    Horowitz is a writer and activist, not the leader of a country …

    Are you saying you’re more concerned with goofball Horowitz than Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad?

    That’s right, no need to worry about Iran, but watch out for that Horowitz characer… LOL, you kill me Kevin, I get the joke now… GOOD STUFF!!!

  • Kevin Levin Sep 7, 2006

    Chris, — First, you need to lighten up. Given the extent to which college professors are on the defensive in reference to their political views I am indeed not concerned about the president of Iran. There are plenty of people here who want “liberal” teachers ousted. Sorry if you don’t get it.

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