They say it's the winners who write the history books, implying that what has been written is untrue.
Nonsense. What it does mean is that it is not the whole truth.
But the solution to not enough truth is more truth. Labelling what has previously been written and taught as false—or erasing it altogether, and substituting another version with its own biases—only compounds the problem.
(I can hear the teachers now, pointing out that it's difficult enough to get students to learn any history at all, much less to absorb and ponder more than one point of view. But no one ever said good teaching was easy.)
I've mentioned before that one of the gravest consequences of simplifying the very complex Chinese written language is to cut off the common people of China from their literature and history. That is a very powerful tool in the hands of a totalitarian régime.
Nor are people living in a democracy safe. In the end, is there much difference between a people who cannot read their historical documents and those who do not? If free people don't care to keep their minds free, can tyranny be far behind? As President Ronald Reagan said, Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. It has to be fought for and defended by each generation.
Having just re-read, and reviewed, George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four, I was especially struck when I came upon Larry P. Arnn's essay from last December, "Orwell’s 1984 and Today." As usual, I recommend reading the original; it's not long.
The totalitarian novel is a relatively new genre. In fact, the word “totalitarian” did not exist before the 20th century. The older word for the worst possible form of government is “tyranny”—a word Aristotle defined as the rule of one person, or of a small group of people, in their own interests and according to their will. Totalitarianism was unknown to Aristotle, because it is a form of government that only became possible after the emergence of modern science and technology.
In Orwell’s 1984, there are telescreens everywhere, as well as hidden cameras and microphones. Nearly everything you do is watched and heard. It even emerges that the watchers have become expert at reading people’s faces. The organization that oversees all this is called the Thought Police.
If it sounds far-fetched, look at China today: there are cameras everywhere watching the people, and everything they do on the Internet is monitored. Algorithms are run and experiments are underway to assign each individual a social score. If you don’t act or think in the politically correct way, things happen to you—you lose the ability to travel, for instance, or you lose your job. It’s a very comprehensive system. And by the way, you can also look at how big tech companies here in the U.S. are tracking people’s movements and activities to the extent that they are often able to know in advance what people will be doing. Even more alarming, these companies are increasingly able and willing to use the information they compile to manipulate people’s thoughts and decisions.
What we can know of the truth all resides in the past, because the present is fleeting and confusing and tomorrow has yet to come. The past, on the other hand, is complete. Aristotle and Thomas Aquinas go so far as to say that changing the past—making what has been not to have been—is denied even to God.
The protagonist of 1984 is a man named Winston Smith. He works for the state, and his job is to rewrite history. ... Winston’s job is to fix every book, periodical, newspaper, etc. that reveals or refers to what used to be the truth, in order that it conform to the new truth.
Totalitarianism will never win in the end—but it can win long enough to destroy a civilization. That is what is ultimately at stake in the fight we are in. We can see today the totalitarian impulse among powerful forces in our politics and culture. We can see it in the rise and imposition of doublethink, and we can see it in the increasing attempt to rewrite our history.
To present young people with a full and honest account of our nation’s history is to invest them with the spirit of freedom. ... It is to teach them that the people in the past, even the great ones, were human and had to struggle. And by teaching them that, we prepare them to struggle with the problems and evils in and around them. Teaching them instead that the past was simply wicked and that now they are able to see so perfectly the right, we do them a disservice and fit them to be slavish, incapable of developing sympathy for others or undergoing trials on their own.