Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Teacher Got Wrong by James Loewen

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In James Loewen’s Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Teacher Got Wrong, Chapter 1 tackles the Handicapped by History: The Process of Hero-Making.

The issues Loewen raised in this book are truly controversial. Take for instance, issues surrounding Helen Keller. American history has always depicted Helen Keller as the blind and deaf girl who overcame physical disabilities to attain success. In truth, according to Loewen, Helen Keller is not all sweet and peace-loving, conformist.

Loewen stated that, far from the amiable image we were led to believe, Helen Keller was a radical socialist, a member of the Socialist party of Massachusetts in 1909. Helen even hung a read flag in a desk in her study to show her support. When Keller expressed her socialist views, she was then one of the most famous women on the world. Newspapers who praised her for her courage and intelligence now believed that her handicap has affected her perception of the world, hence, the socialist stance.

Keller persisted in this belief all throughout her life which is, the radical change brought about socialization would be good for the society. She supported Eugene V. Debs, a known socialist advocate, for the presidency. This radical side of Helen Keller is a fact hidden to most Americans by the media and the school teachings.

Another controversial issue tackled by Loewen in Chapter 1 is about President Woodrow Wilson. Textbooks often depicted him as a hero when, in fact, he was a racist who encouraged racial violence among black people and even Russians.

President Woodrow Wilson financially supported the “White” side of Russian civil war. He sent naval forces to help overthrow the Russian Revolution. American forces went to war with Czech and White Russian forces that put up their own anticommunist government at Omsk. The White Russian forces were defeated and the American troops had to leave Russian soils, Vladisvostok.

This part of history was effectively left out by historians. As a matter of fact, only a few Americans know about this “unknown war with Russia” according to Robert Maddox. Not one of the American history textbooks mentions it. Which is the exact opposite in Russian history textbooks, where the fiasco was given due coverage.

Another cover-up although to a much lesser extent is Wilson’s invasions of Latin America. Some textbooks do include this episode in the past but they try to give justifications for Wilson’s acts in order to depict the US or Wilson in the favorable way.

Another less known fact is that US troops also invaded Haiti in 1915. US overlooked a pseudo-referendum for a new and less democratic Haitian constitution. US also changed land ownership by establishing plantations instead of the traditional practice of owning small tracts of land. Haitians started armed protests which killed 3,000 civilians.

Wilson’s racism was not only evident outside the US. It was more so at home. He was very outspoken about his white supremacist views. His administration passed legislative policies that limited civil rights of the African Americans. He appointed whites to positions intended for blacks. He made sure that his Democratic Party was closed to African Americans, a situation which dragged on for twenty years. Wilson’s racist stance had somehow helped revive the Ku Klux Klan. The KKK dominated the Democratic Party in southern states causing untold burdens to black people all over the US.

Loewen believed that David W. Griffith’s film “The Clansman” is a perfect example of Wilson’s racist stand. After he viewed the movie, Wilson commented that he regretted that it depicted true history. This movie is an important part of American cinema because it was considered the best in technical production. And, more than that, it was a film considered by many as the most racist movie of all time. Thomas Dixon, a classmate of Wilson, wrote it. He intended to make the book an instrument to transform the readers to empathizers of the Democrats cause. This awakened white supremacists movement particularly the re-establishment of the Ku Klux Klan.

Wilson established the Espionage Act of June 1917 to allow him more censorship powers. His censorship powers enabled his postmaster general to control all mail that might get in the way of his war efforts. Textbooks write that Wilson’s suppression of civil liberties was brought about by war but even though World War 1 was over in 1920, Wilson disapproved a bill that would eliminate the Espionage and Sedition acts. Textbooks surreptitiously hid or forgot to mention these facts. All these serve as cover-up to Wilson’s shortcomings to make him appear a hero, valiant and admirable.


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