By Vic Shayne
I’ve been a writer for the past 30 years, and my most recent challenge was a book for a 90-year-old Holocaust survivor. This project involved endless hours of research that has led me not only to a dearth of post-war testimonials, but also organized websites denying that this event ever happened. This revisionist teaching is based on a desire to invalidate human suffering, and recognize the loss of millions of lives, mass murders and a genocidal program that was anything but a secret.
I got to thinking: Is it possible to just rewrite history, deny that events ever happened, tell eye witnesses and participants that they were all deluded and that atrocities never occurred? It made me wonder how far we can take this idea of revisionism.
What if we, from here on, decided that we would not teach about the reality of American slavery and the struggle for civil and human rights? In this terrible scenario, African Americans would be denied their claim to a heritage of suffering, senseless lynchings, being torn from their families and tribes in Africa and being treated as subhumans. Did this really happen? Who says so? No witness is alive to testify that slavery and hardships were ever foisted upon these Africans. Just like the Holocaust, we could deny it ever happened. We could say, sure there were some Africans brought on ships to America, but they didn’t die because they were bound by chains in the hulls of rickety ships. They died merely of old age or because they were sick before the voyage ever began. And when they came to America they weren’t really slaves, they were just servants, volunteering for work. They have no right to complain or demand the world’s attention for any injustice.
Or we could look at the plight of the Irish and the supposed potato famine. We can say this was not a real event. We can rewrite this period of history and say that the Irish never suffered mass starvation, prejudice and near annihilation. We could all agree that they came in waves at the turn of the last century just to seek their fortunes, with no other motivating factors; that they were selfish fortune-seekers, drunks and misfits. We could say that the half million to a million who starved to death in agony never existed, that the Irish were never mistreated by the British; that they just made everything up.
In China, in 1937, history tells us that the Japanese invaded the city of Nanking and created a bloody, horrific, murderous event. Did this, what is now called The Rape of Nanking, ever really happen? Who says so? Maybe, we could say, it never happened. There is nobody who can prove that a six-week massacre yielding 300,000 dead ever really happened. We could chalk it all up to war. Maybe we could even say that the Chinese women, children and men deserved to be tortured to death, with adolescent girls gang raped while their parents were forced to watch in horror; they were partly to blame for the events that led to babies being bayoneted, picked up by their legs and tossed into the air into vats of boiling water, and the women and girls deserved being raped because this is what soldiers do. But it’s all overblown, exaggerated.
Maybe Japanese Americans were never forced across the United States into internment camps during World War II. Maybe their homes were not lost to them, as well as their jobs and their relationships and their livelihoods. Maybe it never happened that there was a discriminatory policy applied to them that didn’t apply to white Americans. Maybe the Japanese Americans are just complaining about a little misunderstanding. Perhaps they are making it all up because they just want attention or to collect money in some way.
And perhaps we can say that all those American soldiers who came across the Nazi death camps were just seeing things. The smell of death that could never leave their sinuses was a figment of their imagination. Plus, those American in WWII who died a slow and miserable death on the death marches in Asia were lying.
Where does any of this end? Are we to allow hate groups to define history for us? History is a human event, not a collection of statistics, troop movements, military campaigns and weaponry. History is defined by what happened to real people with real families and cultures and homes and relationships. The Holocaust in WWII Europe happened, and it was worse than history records, because you cannot quantify human suffering, night mares, emotional breakdowns, recurring anguish, heartbreak or unresolved trauma. Real were the concentration camps, gas chambers, killing fields and precise plans for genocide. Testimonies exist from American soldiers, General Eisenhower, Nazi officials, resistance fighters and thousands of victims. This event happened, and it was actually even worse than is recorded by our official history.
What also happened was a genocidal policy against Native Americans who were marched to death through unbearable winter weather from the east to Midwest. These people who survived the brutality of the Trail of Tears were put on reservations, given small pox, robbed of their culture. Ruined and left to rot. The Irish were nearly destroyed by British racism. The Japanese waged an unforgettable massacre on the Chinese, and the Chinese on the Tibetans. Since February 2003, the Sudanese government in Khartoum and the government-sponsored Janjaweed militia have used rape, displacement, organized starvation and mass murder to kill more than 400,000 and displace 2.5 million. Violence, disease and displacement continue to kill thousands of innocent Darfurians every month. This is happening NOW. Can we say that it is not?
Will we be allowed to be bullied by racist, extremist, ignorant, unread, hateful revisionists? Will we sit by and accept the president of Iran’s hateful campaign of Holocaust denial as a means to invalidate the nation of Israel? Did Martin Luther King die for no good reason? Were our brave young soldiers massacred on the shores of France to the point wherein the sea turned the color of human blood for a non-event erroneously called the Normandy invasion? Do we not recognize their heroism because some group claims it never happened? As a great nation of free thinkers representing a wide array of rich cultural, religious and ethnic diversity, we as proud Americans must validate the suffering of others and disallow the hate that is historical revisionism that hides behind a veil of pseudo-intellectual discussion. If we don’t stand up to this ugliness in our schools, churches, mosques, synagogues, communities and media, then we will allow history and all its lessons to dissolve and we will lay the foundation for greater atrocities to come.