Politicians manipulate history all the time. They always have. Today Texan politicians are sanitizing the history books to put both the state and its extreme right-wing conservatism into the most positive light possible. The Soviets did the same thing with their history, only they skewed it to the left. In both cases distorting history to suit one’s political purpose does no one any good. The historian needs to present what happened in as neutral light as possible, and leave it up to the student to judge its outcome.
Can an historian remain completely neutral? Absolutely not. No one can ever achieve that without having his or her emotions and belief systems surgically removed. But a good historian can follow where the evidence leads even if that contradicts what he or she hoped to find or conclude.
The history of the Great Depression and the New Deal often falls victim to this sort of partisan history. In fact, an entire school of historians exist that argues Franklin D. Roosevelt and his New Deal needlessly prolonged the Great Depression by many years and utterly failed in its purpose. I have even seen arguments that the New Deal caused the Great Depression (apparently the four years before FDR came into office did not “count” as a depression). Why make such an argument despite the overwhelming evidence against it? Because it gives modern politicians an excuse to roll back all the social gains made during the New Deal, such as Social Security and unemployment insurance.
Some revisionists have damned FDR as a radical socialist, yet he neither wanted to govern as far left as he did, nor did he do so willingly. When he came into office, radicals such as the Communist Party and Huey Long had mass appeal; he feared if he did not introduce some of their popular proposals such as unemployment insurance and better rights for workers, a demagogue would rise up and overthrow the existing government in a popular revolution. Upon taking office, he only wanted to save capitalism from itself, not eliminate it. A real socialist would have introduced civil rights legislation to remove Jim Crow laws in the South and stop legalized segregation in the North, something he refused to do for fear it would alienate Southern Democrats. He would also have tried to nationalize major industries, another thing he never attempted. And those who point to the National Recovery Act as just such a policy need to take a closer look at its function and powers: it tried to stimulate capitalism, not destroy it.
Those who would manipulate history to their own ends have already done so. The history books our students currently use either tell half truths, omit important events, or have outright falsehoods in them. And there seems no end of such efforts. One minority movement in Tennessee, for example, recently demanded that the state remove from its history books all mention that the Founding Fathers owned slaves (especially the vaunted Jefferson), or that they massacred Native Americans.
Historical Perspective aims to present history in as neutral a fashion as human nature allows, even when inconvenient truths appear in the course of research. Not all the articles on this website necessarily contain controversial conclusions. Its main function involves presenting lesser known aspects about subjects already well identified, such as the fact that the Confederacy seriously considered emancipating all its slaves to gain diplomatic and military aid from Britain and France. In addition to “Mark’s Musings,” I hope to add more full length articles to this site. It will also serve as a place where I can inform those interested in anything new I have published.