The first lesson in fictional story devices is discovered when a student opens
her first history textbook. Only they arenít told the history inside is fiction.
Students are taught this is what happened. Accept it. Memorize it. Take it to
heart. What other events happened, or didnít happen, the motives of rulers and
generals, alliances, and failed alliances, and shifting power structures arenít
usually part of the package.
Thai childrenís learn about sacking of
Ayutthaya in 1767 as if that is the only event worthy of mention, ensuring that
children associate Burma as an brutal aggressor with Thailand as a victim.
Laotian school history books paint Thais as villains. And so it goes.
untangle the web of power, influence and brute force is a challenge for any
historian. The historical record is often incomplete and biased. The more
distant the events, the more likely the conclusions are the product of myth,
wishful thinking, and self-serving political forces.
Thailand isnít the
only offender in the manufacture of history to suit its own self-interest. Japan
still canít come to grips with World War II, the Chinese history on Tibet has
the earmarks of heavy-handed editing, the Americans are silent on the
extermination of native Indian tribes, and these few examples donít begin to
describe the often distorted and unreliable narratives that children are taught
in their local schools.
The first lies children learn are from the
school history books. Once the first lies are accepted as gospel the ability to
play on preconceived ideas becomes easy. The students who are now adults have
grown fat and stupid on a steady diet of falsehoods. They are softened up for a
lifetime of official and commercial story telling that blurs reality and
illusion and that suits perfectly the interest of those seeking power and
profit. Challenge the conventional historical received wisdom is dangerous.
People find comfort in the official spin; they become uneasy when they learn the
truth is vastly more complicated and what is extracted must be qualified.
The hometown team may also be implicated by uncomfortable historical
events. Silence is another enemy of truth. Those who break that silence are
rarely thanked; more likely they are hounded, persecuted and marginalized. There
has always been a lot at stake when it comes to writing history. That why who
writes the history school books and what the choose to write about and what they
choose to ignore has huge implications for social and political development.