Past present: Nationalising history
History is a sensitive subject and becomes more so when it is nationalised and used to promote national interest. Each nation compares its greatness to other nations and traces its glory in conquests and political domination over others.
This version of history highlights the achievements of military leaders and generals whose greatness is built around the slaughter of vanquished people and plunder of their wealth and resources.
During the period of European imperialism, when Asian and African countries were occupied, the European nations were proud of their invincibility and power. An Englishman would proudly say that right or wrong, my country is my country. This approach creates heroes placed on the high pedestal of glory. While their crimes and corruption are ignored, they are praised as valiant and virtuous. Their patriotism admired and they become builders of great empires.
Herder, a German philosopher, argues that each nation has separate characteristics and qualities irrespective of where the people migrate and settle. This supports the racist ideology which legitimises all acts of imperialism, like massacre of inferior races to acquire their wealth and resources. Hitler used racist nationalism by propagating the superiority of the Aryan race and emotionally exploited the German nation through the national anthem, “Deutschland, Deutschland uber alles.”
When the Asian and African nations began their struggle against imperialism, history was used to inspire people to resist occupying powers. After independence, the new nation states reconstructed their history with a fresh perspective. Besides written material, archaeological excavations also helped them rewrite history and regain their lost pride. In the same way, the people of Iraq, Egypt, Iran, India, Pakistan, and other countries are revising their past glory in the process of nation building.
The negative aspects of nationalising history are that the weak areas are ignored, while historical accounts are distorted in order to project a good image. For example, in Indian history, the British conquest is attributed to conspiracy, while the political and social weaknesses are not highlighted. Sometimes, a false pride is injected and as a result, people have no understanding of the degenerate society.
The modern period shows how the American state is moving towards nationalism. As a result, all imperialist policies are justified by the majority of the American people. It is being propagated that this is the American century, or a period of Americans domination.
In this version of history, all those who furthered the cause of the American imperialism are declared heroes. In Washington, names of American soldiers killed in the Vietnam War are inscribed on a wall as war heroes, but thousands of Vietnamese killed by these soldiers during the war are forgotten.
Ronald Reagan, who destroyed the Sandanista Revolution of Nicaragua is regarded a great hero in the present-day American history. Henry Kissinger, who was involved in the conspiracy to overthrow Allende’s government in Chile and supported the military coup of Pinochet, where thousands of people were slaughtered, emerges as another great statesman. Irrespective of their ethnicity and nationality, history must condemn those who commit crimes against humanity.
The worst victims of nationalising history are history textbooks. In almost all nation states, authorities are concerned about moulding young minds towards nationalism. To achieve this, textbooks are carefully developed under government supervision and selected material is used which suits the national interest. As a result of false historical accounts and narratives, what is studied at school remains their knowledge for the rest of their lives unless further study is required by their profession. When textbooks do not provide correct facts, young minds are poisoned, thus making it impossible to liberate them from narrow-mindedness, hatred, false pride and ignorance.