Revisionist History Channel

I remember when I went to public school growing up, studying history.  I loved it.  However, I was brought up in a Christian household, and though my parents did not care a bit about history, I began to notice that something was missing in what I was being taught at school.  There was simply no mention of the impact of Christianity on Western history.

Of course, the first college world history class I took wasted no time in properly bestowing credit to Western thought on the Greeks, Romans and the Judeo-Christian Ethic- just as it should have been.  It was refreshing to see Christianity getting its due, but more than that, I began to feel that it was ‘history’ itself that was being cheated by the public schools in selectively choosing which parts of the story to leave out.

I learned a term while I was at college that was easily applied to this situation- “Revisionist History”.  It’s not a complement.  It’s would be more correctly described as a disease.  Don’t get me wrong.  There is room for some revisionism.  This is easily seen when we look back at some recent presidents.  Reagan, Clinton and George W. Bush were all reviled during their presidencies, but as Clinton and Reagan are both now being revised in a positive note (and rightly so), so will George W. Bush in a few years.  This would be why you should not write history until at least 20 years after the fact, but that’s a whole different discussion.

The bad form of revisionist history tends to be agenda driven.  A horrible example of this would be C.A. Tripp’s horrible book, The Intimate World of Abraham Lincoln which attempts to turn our greatest president into a homosexual based on the flimsiest evidence.

The History Channel over the past four or five years has begun a shift toward this type of agenda based historical programming.  It, and the National Geographic Channel, have both begun to promote shows that are based on flimsy theories with little or no backing and no refutation.  For example, there are a host of shows based on Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code that are presented as if they are based on real, long-standing historical theories rather than new speculations taken from a single man who himself says they are just made up.  Unfortunately, this type of programming seems to be their trend.

Last night, I watched the first episode of Expedition Africa on the History Channel.  In it, a group of quarrelsome idiots have decided to attempt to follow Henry Morton Stanley’s famous expedition to find David Livingstone.

The show has given some of the back-story of both Stanley and Livingstone.  They were both great men who do not enough credit for their accomplishments today.  Livingstone was easily the greater of the two.  I was taken aback when they referred to Livingstone as basically an explorer who wanted to end slavery.  I went to the History Channel website and read to see if they elaborated on him further.  Here it was much the same, except that they referred to him as a ‘former missionary.’

David Livingstone was one of the greatest missionaries to ever live.  Period.  He was also a medical missionary.  He saw Africa, and realized that there was so much intertribal strife that he could either stay in one place and affect only a few people, or he could change the way the whole continent worked, and reach millions of people.  He was a strategic missionary.  His theory was that by exploring Africa, and opening up trade routes, the people there would end up seeing the economic benefit of supporting these trade routes and working together.  This, in turn, would make it easier for missionaries, like himself, to reach more people.

The problem I had was that this program, and the History Channel blatantly ignored Livingstone’s primary life calling and reason for doing the amazing things that he did.  It’s easily done in this case, because most people were only taught in school that Livingstone was an explorer also.  I am not expecting them to turn this into a religious program, but the truth of his motivations could be presented without it sounding preachy.  In the end, by selectively ignoring essential aspects of a story, it is the history and the History Channel’s reputation that suffer.

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Top 5 Worst Presidents in U.S. History

1. Jimmy Carter– He is hands-down, the greatest embarrassment to the office in the history of the Presidency.  He was an abysmal failure while in office, who could not even pass legislation with a sympathetic Congress.  His economic policies led the U.S. into one of the greatest recessions in its history, and his foreign policies led to events such as the storming of the U.S. embassy in Teheran.  At least, he did his constituency the service of hiding out in the rose garden during most of his presidency and refusing to be the leader that he was elected to be.

Today, he spends much of his time violating two centuries of Presidential decorum by decrying the work of the men who have succeeded him, and sticking his nose into affairs in which it does not belong, such as working with terrorist organizations like Hamas.  Giving him the Nobel Peace Prize cheapened it, and it has become the sad political tool that it is today.  No amount of house building can make up for the awful way he has dragged the most prestigious office on Earth through the mud.

2. Warren Harding– I tried not to hold the fact that a president died in office against him.  Presidents like William Henry Harrison or James Garfield get an incomplete from me.  They are obviously near the bottom, but as a result of their untimely deaths, did not have the opportunity to do anything truly bad to the office.  However, the Harding administration, though only two years in length was simply packed with Presidential embarrassments.  His administration is generally viewed as the single most corrupt in the history of the U.S., and that includes the Grant administration.  Harding was barely by his own party.  He did poorly in the primaries, was part of a split vote at the RNC, and after a deal was struck for his candidacy in the predawn of a hotel room, it still took ten ballots for him to receive the nomination. 

He won the general election by a landslide, and then had to pay back those to whom promises were made.  This led to the appointment of several corrupt individuals to his administration.  Many of his appointees were personal friends who were completely unqualified for the posts to which they were named.  His nominee to head the Veteran’s Bureau robbed its coffers of $200,000,000 and fled the country.  The Justice Department was accused of taking bribes.  The Attorney General was proven to have illegally profited from allowing alcohol to be taken from government supplies during the middle of prohibition, and corruption was discovered in the office of the Alien Property Custodian.

The most egregious example of corruption in his administration was the Teapot Dome Scandal in which the Secretary of the Interior received $400,000 in bribe from oil companies after leasing oil-rich land to them without any competitive bidding.

This was all bad enough, but Harding’s personal problems were also prominent.  He was married, but he carried on several affairs while he was president.  These eventually came to light adding to the cloud that surrounded his presidency.  Today, there are some theories that he was actually poisoned by his own wife.  In any case, he was dead after serving only two years.

3. Andrew Johnson– He was impeached but not convicted on two occasions.  Most historians agree that he did not deserve to be convicted, but his track record in office showed that he did not agree with his party or Lincoln in regards to the position of former slaves in post-Civil War America.  He repeatedly vetoed legislation that was meant to protect the former slaves and allow them to be absorbed into normal American society.  His appointments and policies promoted the establishment of so called ‘black codes’ that allowed southern blacks to be kept in some sort of servitude as second-class persons.  He was instrumental in defeating the 14th Amendment which eventually made the former slaves actual citizens.  Lincoln was a practical man who would do what it took to eventually get the outcome that he wanted, but his appointment of Johnson was easily his biggest mistake, and one, that with his death, could not be undone.  Johnson’s apparent racism which undermined many of the victories that so much blood was shed for during the Civil War put him high on the list.

4. Ulysses S. Grant– Grant’s two terms as president of the U.S. were notable for their corruption and failed domestic policies.  Waffling on the issue of ‘greenbacks’ and allowing unrestrained speculation in the gold market by Jay Gould and James Fisk led to Black Friday in which the Stock Market shut down.  The Grant administration failed to react by releasing gold early.  This caused the ruin of many investors, and when the administration finally did release its gold reserves, it caused a crash in the gold market that led to more ruin.

Though he was never personally accused of corruption, his administration was involved in several famous instances of corruption.  The most famous of these were the Credit Mobilier swindle and the Whiskey Ring.

Grant may have been a great general, but he was not a great president.  His two terms and his military legacy keep him off the bottom of the list.

5. Richard Nixon– Nixon is an anomaly.  His foreign policy achievements could easily have put him into the top 20 presidents of all time.  The problem was that his own paranoia and character flaws led him to use abuse his power as president and to eventually sanction crimes committed at the expense of his political opposition.  Of all the people on the list, his actions as president were probably the worst, but his extremely effective foreign policy keep him off the bottom of the list.

6. James Buchanan– I added a sixth because he is really the only other bad president.  For the most part, America’s presidents have been good and able men who led the country to the best of their ability.  Some may have been less effective than others, and some served short terms, but the true bottom-dwellers are a short list.  Buchanan’s lack of any attempt to keep the U.S. from devolving into Civil War puts him near the bottom of the list.  He and Nero could have played a duet.