The Lincoln Plawg - the blog with footnotes
Wednesday, December 31, 2003
US history textbooks fantasise over World War 2
All those jokes that the poor old Japs have had to put up with about the fairy-stories in their history textbooks would, in an ideal world, fuel a considerable blowback for Uncle Sam...
Via the excellent Tongue Tied , a piece from the Palm Beach Post (undated!) places a WW2 veteran and literature professor Dr Porter Crow in front of a pile of history textbooks to check his experience with what the books say: he's not impressed.
"All shared equally the risks of battle," it says of blacks and whites in the "A World Conflict" chapter of the Prentice Hall textbook used by Palm Beach County's 11th-grade honors students.
It's a flat lie, of course - the US fighting forces were segregated like to Mississippi standard, and combat casualties were vastly disproportionately suffered by whites. The fact that Crow was - well, Jim Crowed didn't stop him getting into action when the Japs came to call, but his job was minding the fuel dump.
Textbooks are also, it seems, unwilling to suggest that the attack on Pearl Harbor was in any way unsporting:
One text used in high schools says that on Dec. 7, 1941, Japan "declared war" on the United States.
Well up to Enron standard.
If this is what they do to WW2, how do the textbooks tackle slavery and the Civil War? Cold Mountain can manage silently to exculpate the South by fantasy off-screen manumission; but how do you tell the story of slavery without mentioning the disagreeable practice of - well, slavery?
African-Americans all work on the Mississippias Oscar Hammerstein most assuredly did not write !
The Yale Law Review piece (p2n) has further intelligence on Old Man River:
There are three movie versions of Show Boat: the 1929 was a silent with added musical scenes - apparently, Jules Bledsoe singing Old Man River is lost. Robeson appeared in the 1936 version - quite what lyrics were sung, I have no idea.
Among the PC alterations made, and not made, that are discussed in the Yale Law Review piece (all with the purpose of providing analogies for legal interpretation) are
In order to escape bowdlerisation, it seems, text had better be
But what about, say, To Kill A Mockingbird - the Columbus East High School (December 5) stage production was cancelled (a replacement staged reading is still on for late January, last time I looked), but the piece is regularly performed on stage. Scarcely in the Bach league, artistically; and including several uses of the most conniption-inducing word in the (so-called) Land of the Free.
If Harper Lee gets to keep her niggers, why not WS Gilbert? The 'Bird uses the word in a context of racial hostility (pondering who is, what is a nigger-lover, exactly) whereas The Mikado certainly doesn't.
nigger serenaderis almost certainly white - beneath the burnt cork - though Negroes certainly performed in blackface . And, in context, the reference to
the others of his racemeans other serenaders.)
Of course, I'm not looking for logic in such a tricky business, just trying to tease out some of the motivations.
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