As a high school history teacher in the New York City schools for twenty years, I find myself frequently wondering how the city’s textbooks have gotten so full of errors and liberal hogwash.
One textbook required for use in my school and another one nearby, with both schools having a total of 9000 students is entitled The Americans. It is published by McDougal Littell, and ML is onboard with its consultants helping to write the Common Core Standards for history. Every section of this book is replete with errors and omissions. It is the worst textbook I ever used. Most teachers, even the leftists despise it. For example, Wilson’s moral diplomacy is erroneously called “missionary diplomacy.” Our humanitarian concerns about the concentration camps set up by the notorious General Weyler are not even mentioned, nor is the role of “yellow journalism” in manipulating public opinion. Presumably, our only interest in beginning the Spanish-American War was our desire to protect U.S. business interests — and this contention is expressed with a tone of contempt, as though we were again defending those dirty, filthy, greedy businessmen. The section about Theodore Roosevelt’s international affairs involvements does not mention the Algeciras Conference and his wise and moderating influence, nor does it mention the sending of the “Great White Fleet” around the world. His mediation of the treaty ending the Russo-Japanese War misleadingly states that he became involved thanks to the Japanese, downplaying Roosevelt’s initiative in those negotiations. Taft’s “dollar diplomacy” is portrayed as a crass attempt to bulwark greedy American bankers in exploiting, for example, Nicaragua.
(I had to explain to the students that when a country is bankrupt, no bank or banks will lend that country money. Nobody lends money to anybody without an expectation of being repaid. Therefore, when the banks that agreed to lend money to Nicaragua were given partial ownership of Nicaragua’s national railroad, and when the U.S. also went in to collect Nicaraguan customs duties, these actions were a partial hedge against total default by Nicaragua.)
However, the thoughtful citizen will want to focus especially on the textbook’s summary of the causes of World War I, used to introduce U.S. entry into and participation in that war. Thousands upon thousands of students in my school and in New York have formed a grossly wrongheaded understanding of the causes of that war.
The textbook lists the four general causes of WWI, and they are in essence the same causes as listed by every textbook I have used for twenty years: nationalism, imperialism, militarism, and the alliance system (some books talk about the “balance of power”). Nationalism is defined as “a devotion to the interests and culture of one’s nation.” And this nationalism was further complicated by the Balkan ethnic climate, whereby various ethnicities lived within Austria-Hungary but yearned for national independence, or else to be under the (Slavic) Russian influence.
I believe that by calling this configuration “nationalism,” the textbook authors are trying to send a left-wing signal against nationalism and patriotism. Is not the left wing, since the days of Trotsky, always claiming to be an international movement rather than a nationalistic one? And have they not tried to identify with so-called minority “nationalisms” as a way of undermining nations like the USA? In short, is not “devotion to the interests and culture of one’s nation” a good thing? Yet the left, with its essential anti-Americanism, is always promoting the “nationalism” (sic) of minorities against the claims of patriotism that bind our country together. Would it not make more sense to describe the overreaching nationalism prior to WWI as chauvinism or hyper-nationalism instead? Then our students and populace could be free of guilt for being nationalistic or patriotic. This critic definitely sees this “interpretation” as suggesting that nationalism is wrongheaded and wrong.
The term “imperialism” is lifted right out of the Karl Marx playbook. This term draws attention to the inherent economic motive at the center of all national decisions of countries operating within a capitalistic framework. The book says, “For many centuries, European nations had been building empires, slowly extending their economic and political control over various people of the world.” We know that “imperialism” is a sub-heading of “historical necessity” for Marxists. Capitalists and capitalistic countries must conquer and exploit as an automatic part of the dialectical process (that is, until the dialectic expands to the point where the capitalists produce the opposition that overthrows capitalism and establishes communism).
Yet the book fails to take into account that conquest of other peoples goes back in history to pre-industrialized societies. Man’s urge to dominate, conquer, or even crush his neighbor is deeply rooted in the human psyche and is not a trait of the capitalist mindset per se. That’s one of the reasons why early Christianity was so unique — because it was built on the principle of “love thy neighbor,” not “dominate thy neighbor.” In fact, there are articles and books blaming the downfall of Rome on Christianity for just this reason. Other reasons for conquest include fame, glory, status, and adventure — not only for economic gain, as the Marxists would believe.
Thirdly, militarism is cited as an effect of nationalism and imperialism. Yet there is no mention of culture clashes or wars about competing visions of civilization. Rather, all these developments are brought together under a unified leftist-Marxist formula. High school textbooks typically see the arms buildups of Germany and Great Britain as merely an effect of the deep-seated economic competition between these countries. Yet many books have been written about the different visions between Germans and the British of what makes a good society. Many Germans believed that British elevation of the rule of law, of the individual, of parliamentary government, and of the central role of commerce in the life of the country was offensive, and that the Germans had a superior, more militant and romantic view of manly heroism than had the British. Many Germans believed that German efficiency trumped British liberty. Further, the British (and French, for that matter) were far more successful than the Germans in extending their colonial hegemony in foreign lands. Yet this textbook never considers any of these overriding cultural differences, or, one might say, the clash of Weltanschauungen.
Further, as Margaret Thatcher pointed out on numerous occasions, it is not an arms buildup per se that causes war, but the assessment by one side in an arms race that they can absorb the losses that a war entails such that it is worthwhile to attack the other party or parties.
Lastly, this book (and all other textbooks I have used) refer to the alliance system, or balance of power, as a cause of WWI. The book is ambivalent. On the one hand, the Triple Entente and the Triple Alliance were intense rivals and antagonistic — but, at the same time, “nations were reluctant to disturb the balance of power,” so these same antagonistic alliances also helped keep the peace (for a while). At this point, the textbooks are unwilling to ask the question: “Which of the alliances was truly defensive, and which of the two alliances was more motivated by hostility and aggressive intentions?” Only after WWI was Germany forced to sign the war guilt clause taking responsibility for the war. Yet, as every pacifistic leftist knows, this was quite mean-spirited of the Allies to require of Germany. This was just an expression of that vengeful realpolitik spirit of George and Clemenceau, and not of our magnanimous Pres. Wilson. However, if the war guilt clause was in fact a true statement, then it was not the alliance system that caused World War I, but the Triple Alliance of Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Italy that was fundamentally wrong in its intentions and actions.
As we reflect on the above information about textbooks now used in the teaching of U.S. history in New York City and across the nation, we can see that every detail on every page should be reconsidered, refined, and restored to a greater degree of historical accuracy, and diverted from an underlying leftist slant that permeates the writing of almost every page disseminated.