George Bush versus Revisionism

By Richard A. Widmann

On Monday, June 16, 2003 news headlines across the United States announced the latest target of President George W. Bush's wrath-Revisionist historians. Strangely as Bush was shifting his focus from al Qaeda and Iraq to Iran, he decided to take a shot at Revisionists. One headline screamed, "Bush Blasts 'Revisionist Historians' on Iraq."[1] Harry Barnes, the early pioneer of Revisionism once noted that to anti-Revisionists, "the term [Revisionism] savors of malice, vindictiveness, and an unholy desire to smear the saviors of mankind."[2] Surely Bush had positioned himself not only as an "anti-Revisionist" but also as a "savior of mankind" for his recent maneuvers in Iraq.

For the sake of this article, I am not interested in Bush's motivations nor am I interested in the case that criticizes Bush's intentions. I am interested only in the attack on Revisionism itself. Bush's attack suggests incorrectly an attribute of falsification to Revisionism. It is critical to understand that Revisionism is not vindictive and neither does it falsify history. It's been said that all good history by necessity is Revisionist history. Revisionists have never sought to falsify history. They do seek however to rehabilitate the truth and to discover the underlying causes of wars.

Bush took his shot at Revisionists in response to those who have expressed doubt about the official justification for the war in Iraq. In a speech given to a group of New Jersey business leaders, Bush lashed out:[3]

"Now there are some who would like to rewrite history: revisionist historians is what I like to call them."

Showing that Bush really did take issue with Revisionists, he made similar remarks one day later while speaking at a community college in a Washington suburb:[4]

"I know there's a lot of revisionist history going on. But he [Saddam Hussein] is no longer a threat to the free world."

Reporters seeking clarification asked Bush spokesman Ari Fleischer what Bush meant by "revisionist history." Fleischer responded:[5]

"The notion that Saddam Hussein did not have weapons of mass destruction before the war."

Fleischer's definition however proves less than satisfactory. To best understand what this recent flap is all about, it is best to return to Harry Elmer Barnes. Barnes defined "Revisionism" as follows:[6]

"Revisionism means nothing more or less than the effort to correct the historical record in the light of a more complete collection of historical facts, a more calm political atmosphere, and a more objective attitude."

Revisionists understand that history is often shaped by what is read during wartime but that this often bears little resemblance to reality. In wartime, emotions and propaganda often prevent us from getting a clear picture of the actual events-never mind the causes and motivations for such events.

Bush's comment, "I know there's a lot of revisionist history going on. But he [Saddam Hussein] is no longer a threat to the free world" is disingenuous. Although Bush is correct in his latter point about Hussein, this in no way proves Bush's implication. Bush had made the accusation that Hussein needed to be removed from power because he was developing a program of weapons of mass-destruction (WMD's). If this was the reason, and it can be shown that no WMD's in fact existed, then the war itself would be unjustified.

In the days leading up to the war, the propaganda being issued from the White House was unfocused and apparently seeking to find the note that would resonate best with the American people. We heard of Hussein's brutality against his own people; we heard of the WMD's; we heard of links to al Qaeda and international terrorism. Ultimately however, it was the vaguely defined WMD program which won the day with references to the 1988 gassing of Kurds.[7] By extension, post 9-11 Americans drew frightening images of themselves being gassed and of course stirred their collective memory of the fantastic legends of Nazi gassings during the Second World War. Hussein had been positioned as a modern day "Hitler." This "Hitler" was not the Hitler of history but the Hitler of popular legend and myth. This was Hitler with the devil's pitchfork in hand.[8]

The world may well be a safer place with Saddam Hussein out of power. The administration's inept propaganda and lack of proof that Iraq had WMD's however is worthy of analysis by historians. Perhaps Iraq did have such weapons and they are simply well hidden in the desert. Perhaps Iraq did not possess the weapons but Bush truly believed they did-a consideration with its own frightening conclusions. Or perhaps the entire story was a fabrication developed for public consumption.[9] The truth regarding these events and the motivations to unleash American might against Iraq will one day be written. It may take years for documents to be declassified, but at that time it will be known what caused this latest destruction of human life. Make no mistake about it, when that day comes, the books that will be written, will be written by Revisionist historians. History will once again be set into accord with the facts. This is something that can only be done be rewriting the official tales spun by politicians and their spokesmen. Revisionism has always served this role. Only through knowledge of the facts concerning international relations and the causes for war can we truly bolster our hope for prosperity, security and peace in the years ahead. Bush is wrong to think that Revisionists are out to smear him; they are just doing what they've always done, discrediting lies and myths that form a barrier to peace and goodwill among nations.


Notes

[1]Randall Mikkelsen, "Bush Blasts 'Revisionist historians' on Iraq," Yahoo! News, June 16, 2003; http://story.news.yahoo.com/news?tmpl=story&u=/nm/20030616/ts_nm/iraq_usa_bush_dc_7
[2]Harry Elmer Barnes, "Revisionism and the Promotion of Peace", in: Barnes Against the Blackout: Essays Against Interventionism, Institute for historical review, Costa Mesa, California, 1991, p. 273.
[3]Mikkelsen.
[4]Scott Lindlaw, "Bush Again Defends Rationale for Iraq War," Yahoo! News, June 17, 2003; http://story.news.yahoo.com/news?tmpl=story&u=/ap/20030617/ap_on_go_pr_wh/bush_59
[5]Ibid.
[6]Barnes. p. 273.
[7]The charge of Hussein's gassing of the Kurdish people is unproven. In fact this charge is very controversial. It has even been suggested that Iran in fact gassed the Kurds and not Iraq. For additional information see: http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/article1779.htm
[8]There were many such articles and letters written comparing Saddam Hussein to Adolf Hitler. This became a popular sentiment. A few of these include: "Hitler and Hussein and the Lesson of History," http://www.mikehersh.com/Hitler_Hussein_and_History.shtml and "Of Hitler and Hussein," http://stacks.msnbc.com/news/919790.asp and "Saddam Hussein - could he be another Adolf Hitler?" http://www.stp.uh.edu/vol63/89/OpEd2/8921198/8921198.html
[9]On the issue of Weapons of Mass Destruction, it is now acknowledged that even Colin Powell had serious doubts about Iraq's weapons claims. See "Straw, Powell had serious doubts over their Iraqi weapons claims: Secret Transcript revealed."
http://www.guardian.co.uk/Iraq/Story/0,2763,967548,00.html

Source: The Revisionist 1(3) (2003), pp. 244f.


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