Iconoclast, n. A breaker of idols, the worshippers whereof are imperfectly gratified by the performance, and most strenuously protest that he unbuildeth but doth not reedify, that he pulleth down but pileth not up. For the poor things would have other idols in place of those he thwacketh upon the mazzard and dispelleth. But the iconoclast saith: "Ye shall have none at all, for ye need them not; and if the rebuilder fooleth round hereabout, behold I will depress the head of him and sit thereon till he squawk it." (Ambrose Bierce)
The enlightenment of the human race is a process of discarding myths and replacing them with facts, as much a process of disillusionment as one of discovery. Thus the iconoclast or skeptic plays an important role in the liberation of the human mind when he "proves by his blasphemy that this or that idol is defectively convincing—that at least one visitor to the shrine is left full of doubts.…The liberation of the human mind…has been furthered by gay fellows who heaved dead cats into sanctuaries and then went roistering down the highways of the world, proving to all men that doubt, after all, was safe…(H.L. Mencken)
The perpetual human dilemma, "Where do we go from here?" cannot be answered without first considering where we are, where we are coming from, and how we got here. To learn from the past, we must learn what is the past and what are the myths.
George Orwell tells us in his novel, 1984, that he who controls the past, controls the future, and he who controls the present, controls the past. On a daily basis, our newspapers reveal new frauds that governments have been caught attempting to put over on their subjects. It comes as no surprise then to find myths abounding in what we think we know of the past, myths which obfuscate the real nature of the nation-states which foster them for their own self-perpetuation.
Historical revisionism is the establishment's competition in the industry of historical data. It is an attempt to get behind the myths, dispel the illusions and get at the truth. Ergo, nothing is sacred except the truth. This makes the revisionist historian an iconoclast and historical revisionism substantiated iconoclasm or heresy.
With this issue, REASON takes a special look at this heresy called historical revisionism and what it has to teach us.
In an original piece of scholarly research, Dr. James J. Martin examines the plight of an individual who became a victim of American justice when convicted of treason following World War II, in "The Framing of Tokyo Rose." In another World War II case study, we find that the supposedly surprise attack on Pearl Harbor which, so the story goes, dragged a reluctant, peace-loving America into World War II, might have been a surprise to the American people but certainly wasn't to their rulers. Percy Greaves, who was not only present but an instrumental part of the Senate Pearl Harbor Investigations, discusses the events surrounding what he calls "FDR's Watergate," in an article which no doubt will surprise a lot of REASON readers. Continuing with the Watergate analogy, Bruce Bartlett's article on the Pearl Harbor investigations reveals that, then as now, in the lexicon of the State, investigation equals cover-up. Watergate was nothing new. The Emperor still wears the same old clothes.
According to the advocate of the black and white theory of history there are only two sides to a dispute, the good guys and the bad guys, and no compromise between the two is possible. For the forces of righteousness to attempt to reason with or trust the forces of darkness is the utmost folly. Intimidation is the only thing the bad guys understand. The 1938 Munich Pact which transferred the area of Czechoslovakia containing the predominantly Sudeten-German population to Germany, is usually equated with the shameful appeasement of the forces of darkness. This pact is reexamined by Dr. Austin J. App who concludes that rather than appeasement, it represented belated justice and self-determination for the Sudeten-Germans.
Gary North then analyzes World War II historical revisionism and the intellectual paradigm shift brought about by the U.S. government's recent crusade in Southeast Asia. While most Americans are now willing to admit that this crusade was a costly mistake, they see it as an isolated mistake motivated by the desire to contain communism rather than part of a continuing pattern of U.S. imperialism. William Marina looks at some parallels and contrasts between U.S. intervention in Vietnam and its 1898 intervention in the Philippines and concludes that there is a pattern which spells EMPIRE. Finally, Alan Fairgate examines "Non-Marxist Theories of Imperialism," and points out that since the days of Adam Smith, laissez-faire economic analysis has served in the vanguard of anti-imperialist movements. Fairgate lays the groundwork upon which to build a libertarian theory of imperialism.
"The public history of all countries, and all ages," according to John Quincy Adam Adams, "is but a mask, richly colored. The interior working of the machinery must be foul."
"History, in general," wrote Thomas Jefferson, "only informs us what bad government is."
Historical revisionism confirms these assessments.
To maintain the support of the mass of the citizenry, rulers are not able to be open and candid about things. Like any other product or service on the market that would be found lacking on its merits alone, the Nation-State must resort to a good public relations campaign (whitewash) based on false information (fraud). Any maverick brazen enough to point out such fraud can expect to be branded a blasphemer and a heretic. So it is that historical revisionism is labelled heresy.
This is not to say, however, that the works of anyone calling himself a revisionist should be accepted without question. People can get carried away by their theories (e.g. of conspiracy) and invent or distort facts accordingly. And other revisionists, while disclosing very useful facts, may offer theories whose validity is open to serious question (e.g. many of socialist Gabriel Kolko's facts support laissez-faire, despite his viewing them very differently).
Overall, though, there is much value in this heretical enterprise. The power of the State to control information is so great that historical revisionism provides a welcome, cleansing breath of fresh air.
This article originally appeared in print under the headline "Editorial Introduction".