Alternate history

Today is what matters

When asking someone to name the worst dictators of the twentieth century, you’ll get responses like: Mao Tse-Tung, Josef Stalin, Adolph Hitler, Pol Pot, and Nicolae Ceausescu. Ask about the nineteenth century, and people are going to have more trouble naming them. I’m sure they existed, but as for me, I can only think of one, and his name is Abraham Lincoln. While lionized today as one of America’s greatest presidents, Lincoln exercised an unconstitutional tyranny so extreme that modern liberals could never defend his actions if they’d only take time to study them.

In the last few weeks I’ve grown tired of the fictional dramas and comedies that I watch in the evenings, and taken to watching documentaries. I would call them non-fiction, but I’m afraid too many of them have fictionalized, or at least, highly questionable accounts to refer to them as such. One of the more accurate series I’ve discovered is Oliver Stone’s “The Untold History of the United States.” It too has a particular slant to its retelling of American history, but it’s one that we don’t get as often. Aside from deriding Reagan a little too much and praising Gorbachev a little too often, Stone chronicles many of the facts I have studied in later years that were never mentioned in my formal education. With a little reading between the lines, it’s quite good. Once I finished all those episodes on the Netflix, I moved on to look for something else. I tried watching a Ken Burns doc on The Civil War, or as we Southerners used to call it, The War Against Northern Aggression. That film is several years old, and I probably watched it the first time it was on PBS, but I didn’t stay long with Mr. Burns this time. It was very early on that he started the typical Lincoln narrative, and I was forced to turn away. There’s a book in my personal library, The Real Lincoln, by Thomas DiLorenzo, with many Lincoln quotes and facts that would not be suitable for Mr. Burns’ audience. They paint a picture of a very flawed man, even for his time. I remember a conversation I got into with a history professor when I was in college. He was not one of my professors,   but just a guy I met at a party. When he found out I was interested in The War Between the States, I clumsily stated that I had a suspicion that it was about much more than slavery. He laughed heartily at my naiveté, for he had already read the books that I would peruse over the next twenty years. He knew that the war had far less to do with slavery, and far more to do with the things that all wars are fought over: money, power, and ultimately, control. He knew that the slavery of antiquity had evaporated around the world without major wars, and that it would have ceased to exist here with less human suffering had more level headed and less egotistical politicians than Lincoln been in charge. Still, today Lincoln is remembered as the Great Emancipator. No one mentions that he “freed” the slaves in states he did not have authority over, and retained the slavery of those in states he did lead. Freeing any captive is a good thing, but look deeper and you’ll see all the political machinations that were behind all of Lincoln’s “good deeds.” The first real instigator of race-baiting in the United States was no less than Abraham  Lincoln. He’s also the first man to greedily come after your income, by imposing the first federal income tax in our history. I’ve often remarked that the politicians in Washington built him a monument not for fostering freedom, but for being the inspiration for tax-and-spend pols who would forever follow in his footsteps. To be fair, Jefferson Davis, the greater statesman of the two, committed many of the same missteps as Lincoln. He was on the wrong side of history on the central issue associated with the war though. Therefore his sins are remembered, and Lincoln’s forgiven. His statues are ripped down, and Lincoln’s are adored by millions. Both were flawed, unquestionably racist leaders from a bygone era. Only one has had his story whitewashed (a word with a certain irony).

A friend of mine shared an essay about a modern day slave recently. She was from the Philippines, and lived her whole life as a slave. As I read the story, written by one of her owners who was just a child when her family acquired her, I was reminded of Jefferson Davis writing about his favorite slave, who was also his friend. How tragic that people want still to argue about guilt and blame for centuries old slavery in this country, when there are slaves the world over this very day. What a wonderful thing it would be if people would stop and think for a minute about the atrocities of today instead of worrying about the sins of our many great grandparents. If it were possible to do that, maybe a hundred years from now people would have as much trouble naming twenty-first century dictators as I have naming nineteenth century tyrants. Tyranny and oppression can only be fought in the present. The study of the past is noble, but “history is not always what you think.