Friday, September 17, 2004


"I am sitting in front of my computer in Washington, D.C. The electricity is on, and lights shine overhead; outside, I hear planes, trains, automobiles. Down the street, not far from where I live, are the House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate. None of this would be remarkable except that the purveyors of politically correct history have declared that it never could have happened. All these inventions, which surround our lives, are of "Euro-American derivation," that is, they derive from inventions by "dead white European males." American history, the PC historians say, is not the story of the triumph of Western European technology or its political institutions. Instead, American history is the result of the "convergence of peoples"-from Europe, to be sure, but also from East Asia, Africa, and, long before, Native Americans across the Bering Straight.

I have no problem-no true student of history does-with acknowledging the gifts of Asians and Africans to the development of the United States. No one can deny that their positive contributions have often been ignored. Asian labor-grossly under-compensated-helped build the transcontinental railroad. African labor-before 1865, almost completely slave-based-built the cotton industry. Native Americans, mostly under-compensated, were here well before us (although there's an argument about whether someone was here before them). One can grant that a "convergence of peoples" built America.

But moderate as well as conservative historians have come to the conclusion that convergence theory and PC history have some serious problems. One is civic: A corollary of the belief in the equivalent importance of the contribution of each of the "converging peoples" is multiculturalism, not E Pluribus Unum. America has been enriched by many ethnicities; however, if we have more than one culture, we may not, in the long run, have one nation. You cannot uproot a nation's laws and customs from the soil in which they've grown for centuries and expect them to continue to bear fruit.

There is yet another, more fundamental problem. Convergence theory does not explain the technology by which we work, learn, travel, and live longer than ever before. It does not account for the House or Senate, the Constitution, or the First Amendment. To explain these, you must return to English parliamentarianism, the Magna Carta, maybe even the Athenian agora.

The fact is, we live in a world primarily shaped by what PC historians call "Euro-American" ideas. If one simply analyzes how we transport ourselves, each of our primary means-the steam engine, electrical locomotion, the internal combustion engine, gas-powered engines mounted on wings, jets-are all Euro-American inventions. Computers (the first, it's argued, invented by Byron's daughter, of all people) are of Euro-American derivation. Our medicine has been enriched by the rediscovery of pre-Enlightenment uses of herbs and acupuncture from China and relaxation therapies from the East; we would, however, be lost in the Dark Ages without Pasteur, Salk, and Fleming.

This doesn't mean that non-Euro-American cultures are without value or that their study is worthless. Nor does it mean that Euro-American civilization is morally perfect; no Christian could say that of anything human. Nevertheless, it is simply true that PC historians are teaching young students not just something politically objectionable but also something far worse: They are not teaching history at all. For all their knowledge of separate and discrete facts, they've let their premises drive them to unscholarly, nonhistorical conclusions. Knowledge may be power, but knowledge, in this instance, is certainly not wisdom. As an embarrassed history professor said in the Los Angeles Times after September 11, "It is time to admit that this generation of historians-with some notable exceptions-has yet to deliver to students and to the public a usable and balanced interpretation of the past." ....

The only way to make Euro-American males the only bad guys in town is simply by distorting the historical record. If students were allowed to study the whole of world and American history in context, they'd come away not just with a historically valid understanding of a multipolar world, but with the sure knowledge that evil isn't the unique property of Western civilization....

Unfortunately, many PC historians grew up or matured during the Vietnam era and tend to see everything through that prism. America is their Evil Empire. While many non-Western nations have done evil things, PC history ignores this. As Yale history professor Donald Kagan has said, "the admirable, even the uniquely good elements [of America] are taken for granted as if they were universally available, had always existed, and required no special effort to preserve. All shortcomings, however, are quickly noticed and harshly condemned. Our society is judged not against the experiences of human societies in other times and places, but against the kingdom of Heaven.""

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