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from The Textbook Letter, January-February 1997

Reviewing a high-school "history" book

West Publishing is selling a schoolbook that purports to be an account of American history. Three reviewers find that West's writers have loaded the book with misinformation, partisan distortion and multi-culti cant while excluding fundamental elements of our country's story.

United States History:
In the Course of Human Events

1997. 1198 pages. ISBN of the student's edition: 0-314-04021-8.
West Publishing Company, P.O. Box 64526, St. Paul, Minnesota 55164.

This Partisan, Presentist Screed
Doesn't Qualify as a History Text

John D. Fonte

United States History: In the Course of Human Events is West Publishing Company's contribution to the new crop of American-history materials for high schools. In almost every respect, it fails to qualify as a history book.

School boards, administrators, teachers, parents and students have a right to expect that an American-history textbook will get its facts right; that it will examine what is most significant in the life and development of our country; that it will present its material in an objective manner; that it will avoid taking sides in partisan matters; that it will be up-to-date and will reflect new findings; that it will correct old errors; that it will avoid loaded language; and that it will adhere to the basic tenets of historical scholarship.

In the Course of Human Events does none of the above. The text is partisan and biased; it often emphasizes the unimportant while ignoring the significant; and it repeats old, erroneous claims while ignoring current information.

This book's conceptual framework, including its aggregation of biases, parallels the discredited National Standards for United States History that appeared in October 1994, issued by Gary Nash, Charlotte Crabtree and their allies at the University of California at Los Angeles. Nash, the principal creator of the "standards," made various public attempts to defend them, but the "standards" were soon condemned by the United States Senate and were judged unacceptable by President Clinton and by the Secretary of Education, Richard W. Riley, among others. Thus, it seems safe to say that school districts will invite controversy and confrontation if they try to use In the Course of Human Events in high-school classrooms.

The difficulties with In the Course of Human Events begin with the very first sentence in Unit 1, where the writers say that "Our nation's origins can be traced back to Asian hunters and gatherers who crossed the Bering Strait and spread slowly throughout North and South America." In fact, the movement of Asians across the Bering Strait, perhaps 30,000 years ago, has nothing to do with "our nation's origins." Our nation is based on the heritage of Western civilization -- in law, language, customs, government, philosophy and religion. It isn't based on the practices of prehistoric Asian nomads.

Unit 1 ("The Settling of America to 1750") extends through some 100 pages, continually denying that the foundations of the United States are preponderantly Western. This denial was one of the major ideological themes of the Nash document, in which the United States was said to be a "convergence" of three civilizations -- Amerindian, African and European -- instead of being, primarily, a product of the European tradition. But Nash's "convergence" notion has been debunked, most recently in an article that John Patrick Diggins, of the Graduate Center at the City University of New York, published in the January-February issue of SOCIETY. Diggins points out that our institutions and values (such as democracy, equality and freedom) didn't arise because America incorporated the ways of non-Western cultures; rather, they arose because America decisively departed from such ways. As Diggins says:

The two questions that today's students should address, it seems to me, are these: Where did the right to have rights originate? What are the necessary historical conditions of possibility that allowed freedom to break the bonds of domination?

Like Gary Nash, the writers of In the Course of Human Events paint false pictures of both Western and non-Western cultures. The non-Western ones are romanticized and sanitized, while Western civilization is denigrated.

In Unit 1, for example, a painting by the Mexican artist Diego Rivera glorifies the Aztecs (while the caption says that the painting "provides some idea of the complexity of Aztec civilization"), and the same romantic attitude shapes the text. The fact that the Aztecs ruled as tyrants over other peoples, while practicing slavery and human sacrifice on a colossal scale, goes unmentioned. Also ignored is the fact that the Spaniards who overthrew the Aztec empire were aided by Indians who hated the oppressive Aztecs. These facets of history disappear as West Publishing's writers present a crude, propagandized picture of Spanish brutality and Indian innocence.

The North American Indians in general are romantically characterized as careful stewards of the land, believers in egalitarianism and women's rights, brave warriors, skillful diplomats and the like. Here again, West Publishing's writers evidently are aping Nash.

Similar treatment is given to Africans of the 1300s and 1400s. Like the pre-Columbian Amerindians, the Africans are presented in glowingly romantic passages that have no historical merit. In a section titled "Africa Before 1492," the writers tell us (through the voice of Ibn Battuta, a 14th-century Arab traveler) that Africans were "seldom unjust" and had "a greater abhorrence of injustice than any other people." Further, the writers repeat the old claim that any slavery practiced in Africa was benign. This construct, which Jonathan Burack has labeled the "romantic, happy-family picture of African slavery," is not consistent with the historical evidence. [See "How Textbooks Obscure and Distort the History of Slavery," by Jonathan Burack, in The Textbook Letter, November-December 1992.] West Publishing's writers fail to tell us that the major empires of Africa were built on slavery, nor do they invite us to consider the effects of the indigenous slave trade and slave raids on indigenous peoples. According to In the Course of Human Events, the "lives and social structures" of Africans were not "disrupted" by the slave trade until Europeans arrived.

On page 25 the writers mention the university at Timbuktu, but they never let the student know that Europe, before 1492, had universities by the score. [See "The Hidden Truth" on page 9 of this issue.] More significantly, the book says barely anything about Europe's Renaissance and the Enlightenment, which are relegated to one paragraph each.

It can hardly be accidental that In the Course of Human Events examines Amerindian tribes, the Great Serpent Mound, African empires and Ibo sculpture, but never mentions Magna Carta, the British common law or the doctrine of natural rights -- key elements of Western civilization's contribution to America. It can hardly be accidental that this book gives space to Creek warriors and even to Ibn Battuta, though there is not one word about John Locke -- the man who, more than any other political writer, influenced the thinking of our country's Founders. The ignoring of a major figure like Locke is inexcusable.

Distortion and Propaganda

"Presentism" -- the practice of viewing the past through the lens of today's orthodoxy -- is shunned by all serious historians, because it does violence to history. Yet this approach is prevalent throughout In the Course of Human Events. Thus (in a chapter titled "Creating a Republic") the writers take pains to tell what the Founders did wrong, by the standards of 1997: "The status of women in late eighteenth-century America was also inconsistent with the belief in equality before the law and equality of opportunity." In reality, the status of women in the late 1700s was not at all inconsistent with doctrines of equality, as those doctrines were understood at the time.

The insistence that American women have been continually oppressed, in all historical periods, runs through the whole book. Hence the writers ignore the point that the status of women in the early United States, when compared with the status of women in the rest of the world, was exceptionally high -- a point that was noted by illustrious European visitors, including Tocqueville and Bryce. In place of any analytical account of the history of women in America, West Publishing offers distortion and propaganda.

Indeed, distortion permeates the book from beginning to end, and the writers' partisan approach to events and issues doesn't square with their declared intention to examine history from "multiple perspectives." Here are two more examples:

Evasion and Silence

In their preface, West Publishing's writers include "Global Interactions" among the alleged themes of their book, and they say that "we can understand American history only in a global context." One would never guess this from reading the book's treatment of the 20th century.

Globally, the defining issue during most of the 20th century was the worldwide struggle between totalitarianism (as embodied in communism and Nazism) and liberal democracy. Yet In the Course of Human Events tells very little about the theory and practice of totalitarianism, or about the global threats that communism and Nazism posed to free societies.

On the horrors of communism, this book is silent. Excepting one reference to the "executions of those suspected of disloyalty" in Czechoslovakia in 1948, the book omits to tell us that any communist regimes ever killed anyone. There is not a word about the millions of Ukrainians who were deliberately starved to death during Stalin's terror-famine of the 1930s. There is nothing about the Soviet Union's GULAG system. There is nothing about the tens of millions of Chinese who died during Mao Zedong's Great Leap Forward (in the 1950s) and his Cultural Revolution (in the 1960s); Mao is mentioned a few times, but he never does anything distasteful, let alone criminal. There is nothing about the mass exterminations that Pol Pot and his Khmer Rouge conducted in Cambodia in the 1970s; in fact, the book doesn't mention Pol Pot or the Khmer Rouge at all.

One wonders what Americans of Ukrainian, Russian, Chinese or Cambodian descent will think of a "history" book that eliminates all memory of how their relatives died by the millions at the hands of communist dictators.

As far as relations between America and the Soviet Union are concerned, In the Course of Human Events ignores recent scholarship and simply repeats old errors and clichés. In this respect, the book was already out of date on the day it was published. For example: Soviet documents which have come to light in the past few years have shown that American communists were extensively involved in espionage, yet In the Course of Human Events retains the outdated view that anti-communist sentiments in the United States, including fears that American communists were engaged in spying or subversion, were mainly irrational and hysterical. West Publishing's writers have difficulty in acknowledging that any Americans acted as spies for the Kremlin. In mentioning the prosecution of Ethel and Julius Rosenberg, they give no real account of the case, and they describe the Rosenbergs as mere "alleged accomplices" of the European spy Klaus Fuchs.

To conclude: In the Course of Human Events is a deeply flawed book, freighted with bias, partisanship and inaccuracy -- just like the discredited "standards" that the writers have evidently used as their model. This book should not be imposed upon students in America's public schools.

West's Book -- Short on History,
Long on Distortion -- Is a Fraud

Walter A. McDougall

When the document titled National Standards for United States History -- produced at UCLA under the auspices of Gary Nash and Charlotte Crabtree -- was issued in October 1994, it drew a barrage of condemnatory articles. My own review, which appeared in the May 1995 issue of Commentary, expressed the opinion that some of the other critics were off-base. They had led me to believe that Nash and Crabtree's product gave far more attention to social and cultural matters than to traditional political and diplomatic history, but this was not so. When I analyzed the topics that students were expected to master, I found that nearly 60 percent were related to political history and foreign policy; and overall, about 65 percent of the UCLA standards dealt with traditional material.

It was obvious, though, that topic after topic had been subjected to ideological distortion and that many of the historical interpretations were dubious and slanted. The standards and lesson plans painted uniformly hagiographical portraits of Amerindians, blacks and women, but they exposed the behavior of (usually undifferentiated) white male figures to relentless criticism. For instance: If European men braved the unknown to discover a new world, they did it so they could kill and oppress the indigenous peoples. If the Founding Fathers invoked doctrines of human rights, they did it so they could deny such rights to others. And if American businessmen built the most prosperous nation in history, they did it to rape the environment and keep workers in misery. Such interpretations were bluntly ahistorical, since they were informed not by historical thinking or by sensitivity to the real diversity of Americans (racial minorities and women included) but by trendy contemporary values and ideology.

As the controversy over those UCLA standards dragged on, I came eventually to conclude that it had reached the point of diminishing returns. To be sure, the United States Senate had condemned the standards by a vote of 99 to 1, but the real test of the standards would be found in the decisions to be made by the publishers and buyers of schoolbooks and other classroom materials. "Just give me a textbook to review," I remember saying.

Now I have one: West Publishing's United States History: In the Course of Human Events. By all appearances, it has been patterned consciously and closely on the Nash-and-Crabtree standards, and thus represents the publisher's gamble that a book based on those much-maligned standards can indeed be sold to schools.

In the Course of Human Events is a 1,200-page tome glittering with color illustrations on virtually every page, not to mention its complement of 123 feature articles. It must have been unusually costly to produce. So glitzy is its layout, in fact, that a reader who wants to follow the narrative must make an act of will to block out the ubiquitous pictures, insets and sidebars. When I managed to do this, I found a narrative that clearly reflects the tendentiousness of the UCLA standards but does not reflect their rough balance between political, diplomatic and economic history, on the one hand, and the social histories of victimized groups on the other. West Publishing's writers have given even more weight to the latter than Nash and Crabtree did.

I was disappointed to discover this imbalance, because the material at the front of the book had given reason for hope. The preface starts with "Greetings!" and soon boldly affirms the old-fashioned idea that history differs from other subjects because it tells a story. The writers say that their book relies heavily upon primary sources, and they promise study aids that will help students learn to analyze statistics, pictorial evidence, maps and propaganda.

However, they also say that this textbook will be "as inclusive as possible" in painting a "multicultural and multiracial" history, and will tell "what happened in the past to people like us." In sum, this will be history from the bottom up: It will emphasize groups, rather than individuals or the nation as a whole, and will focus not on what people did but on "what happened" to them.

The chronological breakdown of In the Course of Human Events is similar, but not identical, to that of the UCLA standards. The UCLA writers divided American history into ten units; West's writers recognize eleven. But while Nash and Crabtree allocated three units to the settlement and growth of the American colonies, the war for independence, the Constitutional Convention and the early national period, West's writers rush through all of that in just two units that span some 230 pages (26 of which are given to an annotated display of the text of the Constitution). This skimping pays off later, because it enables the writers to give almost four units to the time since World War 2; the UCLA writers were content with two.

Why the short-shrifting of early American history in favor of more recent times? Apparently to make room for extensive treatment of various "liberation movements" and contemporary topics that presumably appeal to young people today, such as homelessness, drugs, AIDS, and the Internet. Indeed, the very last quotation in the book's text comes from Bill Gates.

Now, a detailed consideration of recent times and events is not bad in itself. But because a high-school course in American history may be the only chance that many students will have to learn about this nation's origins and essence, the fact that West's writers have given so little space to earlier periods is disturbing.

Disturbance turns into alarm when we see that the discussion of those earlier periods is rent with lacunae.

The first unit, titled "The Settling of America to 1750," closely mimics the UCLA document's unit in which "Three Worlds Meet" -- the "three worlds" being the Amerindians, the Africans and the Europeans, as they existed on the eve of Columbus's first voyage to the New World. Following Nash and Crabtree's lead, West's writers dote on the Amerindians and Africans, who are described in reverential but unhistorical detail. The Europeans, however, are dismissed in a few pages, and they seem to have no traits beyond their skill in shipbuilding and their lust for spices and gold.

We read, for example, that the Amerindians had "complex" societies and vast trading networks, that they practiced equality, that "Most women in Indian societies had a degree of equality with men unknown in other lands," and that many Amerindian societies were matrilineal. We also see that "Most American Indians" were animists who believed that "everything in nature had to be treated with care and respect." There is nothing about the vivisectionist religion of the Aztecs (whose only role, in this book, is to be victimized by Spaniards). The only reference to Amerindians' use of ceremonial killings is this, on page 16: "Like other cultures of the time, the Olmecs may have practiced human sacrifice." In other words, maybe they did or maybe they didn't -- but even if they did, they were merely behaving like lots of other folks (whom the writers decline to name).

Similarly, we read that 14th-century and 15th-century Africans lived in diverse environments, displayed diverse cultures, and attained "great luxury." West Publishing's writers say that the Africans, like the Amerindians, practiced animistic religions and had a religious respect for nature. They also tell us that the Africans attached great importance to family ties and to "knowledge of past generations." They even report that the Africans had a university, at Timbuktu.

No mention is made of the fact that Europeans, by the time when Columbus sailed, had founded at least 60 universities. But then, no mention is made of any of the values or institutions or achievements of Western civilization, excepting some bits of technology. The Renaissance gets seven lines of text; the Reformation gets none; and the Enlightenment -- that taproot of American political philosophy -- gets six short sentences. This book's information about Europeans is so scanty that the European settlers of the Americas might as well have come from Mars.

One need not endorse European imperialism to grant that the Europeans, too, were real people who lived in diverse environments and built diverse societies. One need not defend Spanish conquests or English colonization to grant that the Europeans, too, had diverse cultures -- not to mention intellects, religious beliefs and societal values, including a high regard for family ties and for the attainments of past generations. But in this book, Europeans seem to have few interests or motives other than trade and plunder. It is particularly striking that In the Course of Human Events does not tell anything about any European religion.

In fact, the treatment of religion is warped and obscure in all the rest of the book as well. Missionaries are invariably predatory and intolerant, and the authors seem clueless in matters of theology. Thus they say that, during the Great Awakening of the mid-1700s, "people began to realize that they could make choices about how to practice religion" -- as if Europeans had not been fighting for two centuries over precisely those choices! The writers mention the names of several religious groups, such as the Anglicans, the Quakers, the Methodists and the Presbyterians, but there is no information about what these groups believed or how they differed from each other. Nor is there any suggestion of how their various beliefs may have influenced American politics and society. The term Baptists appears several times, but there is only one bit of actual information about this denomination: "Baptist women threatened a floor fight at a national convention [in the 1970s] if a woman was not included in the hierarchy of the church." The writers' reluctance to say anything significant about religion, or even to acknowledge religious sentiments, is nowhere more noticeable than in this passage on page 770:

When told of FDR's death in April 1945, Harry Truman asked Eleanor Roosevelt if there was anything he could do for her. Mrs. Roosevelt replied, "Harry, is there anything we can do for you, for you are the one in trouble now."

Truman's reply -- "Pray for me" -- is omitted.

Rude Treatment

The origins of the United States are treated rudely. Magna Carta, the English revolutions, John Locke and the Whiggish philosophy that inspired Thomas Jefferson are not mentioned in this book that has one of Jefferson's own phrases as its subtitle. An account of the alleged origins of the American Revolution beats the issue of taxation to death, but it says almost nothing about representation. George Washington merits an article -- under the rubric "People Who Made a Difference" -- in which the writers inform us that Washington was not as well educated as some of his contemporaries, was a man of "ordinary talents," and was "not completely successful as a military man nor as a president." Then they ask whether Washington was a real hero or simply a symbol, and they find that he was the latter:

When the Revolution succeeded, [Americans] felt justified in their choice of a leader. Praise for Washington was partly a kind of self-congratulation for their own brilliance in choosing a president who would lead them to success. In fact, it might be said that the idea of George Washington, not always the man himself, was what counted.

(It is instructive to compare the article about Washington with some of the book's other articles about "People Who Made a Difference," in which such figures as "Mother Jones," Gordon Hirabayashi, and Frederick Douglass receive unqualified sympathy.)

The Constitution is discussed at some length, but the Federalist Papers -- perhaps the greatest body of political philosophy Western civilization has produced -- merit only two short quotations and are deemed important only for their role in promoting ratification of the Constitution (page 165).

The early republic's foreign policy is granted little importance. Washington's Farewell Address merits one short paragraph, and the successes of John Quincy Adams (including the Doctrine that he wrote for James Monroe) get less than a page.

Such short-shrifting of foreign affairs becomes a consistent feature of the entire book. Even when the writers get to the 20th century and pay more attention to diplomacy, they fail to provide any context that might enable a student to make sense of things. Fascism, for instance, just happens. It suddenly appears, in 1933, after Germany has "elected" [sic] a new chancellor, Adolf Hitler, whose Nazi Party has "capitalized on the discontent and suffering caused by the harsh peace settlement imposed by the Treaty of Versailles." (No mention is made of the Depression or the suicide of the Weimar Republic.) Then, in 1937, Japan suddenly appears as an expansionist power. For the writers of In the Course of Human Events, fascist ideology and totalitarianism do not exist. Nor, for that matter, do the ideology and the totalitarianism that Stalin established in the Soviet Union. The world of the 1930s is merely "unstable", and America's entry into World War 2 is brushed over in three pages of text.

The spare chapter on the war itself is concerned as much with social tensions and the fortunes of racial minorities and women as with military operations or with the American forces -- overwhelmingly white -- who risked their lives to defeat fascism. As much space is devoted to the internment of the nisei as to the D-Day invasion or to all the campaigns in the Pacific through 1944.

Feminist perspectives appear on cue throughout the book, just as in the UCLA standards. Only rarely do we see any women working alongside their fathers, husbands and sons in a context of shared values and shared lives. Rather, women are presented as a beleaguered minority, comparable to slaves or Indians. The writers cite disparities of income between men and women, but they make no effort to explain that such disparities may exist for reasons other than sexism. Page 939 has a chart titled "Comparing Male and Female Earning Power, 1970," and the caption asks this gratuitous leading question: "What is especially significant about [the difference in pay] in a field such as teaching?"

The use of partisan distortion becomes especially heavy when the writers turn on Ronald Reagan. Though they grant that he enjoyed exceptional "popularity" and "was able to accomplish many of the things he set out to do," they cannot find any substantive, positive thing to write about him. According to In the Course of Human Events, Reagan won elections because he was a professional actor in league with the New Right (a constant, looming presence in the last chapters). A graph on page 1017, purporting to show a revolutionary reversal in social and military spending under Reagan, distorts reality to force a tendentious conclusion. Later the writers tell that Reagan's economic policies had "profound negative effects on the economy and government services at all levels" while his foreign policy and his insistence on more spending for defense led to "Worsening U.S.-Soviet Relations." (That Reagan's policies were apparently instrumental in accelerating the collapse of the Soviet empire and in ending the Cold War is not explained. In this book, the ending of the Cold War seems to have been accomplished by Mikhail Gorbachev alone.)

A textbook that presumes to explain the history of the United States while ignoring Lockean individualism, disparaging George Washington, and devoting as much space to the Internet as to America's religious and philosophical heritage is a fraud. But let the writers speak for themselves, in this sentence from the book's final paragraph:

The application of the ideas of liberty, equality, and justice on which this democracy is founded are [sic] constantly evolving in response to changing times.

A truism masquerading as wisdom, graced by a subject-verb disagreement -- just what one would expect to see peddled to American schools today.

A Book of Far-Left Propaganda
That Fosters Anti-Intellectualism

William J. Bennetta

The political ideologies of America's far right and far left are antagonistic in many ways, but they also have something in common: anti-intellectualism. The authoritarian Bible-thumpers of the far right and the multi-culti race-hustlers of the far left are united, as it were, in their hostility toward knowledge and their fear of intellectualism and intellectual endeavors.

This is easy to understand. At both extremes of the political spectrum, what passes for political philosophy is a pile of simplistic notions which have little to do with the real world, and which crumble if they are subjected to any rational and knowledgeable analysis. At both extremes, therefore, partisans do their best to suppress rationality and knowledge alike.

These similarities between the far right and the far left are abundantly obvious if we look at the books and other materials that those two factions try to inject into the public schools. Regardless of which ideology is involved, the tactics are the same. Double-talk masquerades as information. Humbug is disguised as history. Old folktales and newly fashioned lies are peddled as facts, while inane slogans substitute for substance.

I believe that I've done my part to expose classroom trash that promotes the ideology and the political programs of the extreme right -- e.g., the bogus "biology" book Of Pandas and People, the "sex education" book Sexuality, Commitment & Family, the "health" book Merrill Health, and even a fake "environmental" poster created by a far-right outfit called the National Anxiety Center. Now, in this review, I examine a load of claptrap that comes from the far left and has been packaged as an American-history textbook. I shall give a part of my review to showing how the book fosters anti-intellectualism, for I regard this as one of its most vicious features.

The book in question, West Publishing's United States History: In the Course of Human Events, is an extravagant exercise in trickery, and the trickery starts with the book's title. What West is selling under the name "history" is really propaganda: material that has been picked and twisted, or simply invented, to promote eccentric political, social and racial notions. From start to finish, In the Course of Human Events seeks not to inform students but to befuddle and indoctrinate them, and the writers make heavy use of slogans, unexplained claims, and anecdotes that are presented without any historical context. By suppressing context and by concealing facts that don't match their doctrinal scheme, they project false impressions and lead students to make false inferences.

The doctrinal scheme is multi-culti -- or "multiculturalism," to use its official name -- and I must take a moment to explain what it is. After all, the terms multiculturalism and multicultural are popular buzz-words nowadays: They appear in all sorts of settings, even in advertisements for restaurants or clothing shops or musical programs, and discerning what they mean is sometimes difficult.

The multiculturalism that concerns us here has nothing to do with gastronomy, with exotic socks, or with musical performances that combine French dances with Andean flute-tunes. The multi-culti that West Publishing is promoting is a body of sociopolitical ideology that seeks to recast the United States as a jumble of separate, mutually hostile tribes. The major tribes are racial or quasiracial groups, and the devotees of multi-culti are preoccupied with viewing, judging and treating people in racial terms.

Multi-culti, then, is a racist construct, with racism as its very core. (And no matter what the name "multiculturalism" may suggest, multi-culti has little or nothing to do with cultures.) Wrapped around that core of racism are some other ideological elements that include anti-intellectualism, Victimism, anti-Semitism, a keen hostility toward Western institutions, and a dedication to fake history that denigrates Europeans while glorifying nearly everyone else. This history relies heavily upon racial stereotypes, of course -- especially stereotypes of whites, Amerindians and blacks. Whites are contemptible at best, while the Amerindians and blacks are good, wise and admirable.

In the Course of Human Events carries a preface in which the writers make various bogus claims. For example: "This textbook is the story of the American people. By that we mean all of the people. We have tried to make this textbook as inclusive as possible." That is tripe. In reading the book itself, I have observed the continual exclusion or trivialization of people -- whether individuals or groups -- that don't fit into the multi-culti doctrinal picture.

The preface also puts forth claims about the book's "themes," which are said to include "Arts and Humanities" and "Technological Developments." But in reading the book, I have found little about those things. Occasional exceptions arise when the writers pick some bit of art or technology, then use it as an armature for misrepresentations and distortions that promote ideological notions.

The book's text begins on page 3, and it begins (appropriately enough) with a slogan: "Our nation's origins can be traced back to Asian hunters and gatherers who crossed the Bering Strait and spread slowly throughout North and South America." That bizarre claim is not supported in any way, and the writers do not even try to show any link between the United States and any ancient Asians. They simply give the student a slogan to learn, then they move on.

What they move to is a chapter called "Backgrounds of Early Americans," in which they pretend to tell about Amerindian, West African and European peoples in the days before Columbus discovered the New World. The chapter is a fraud. The stuff that the writers retail has been disguised as history and anthropology, but it is neither. It is based not on scholarship but on phony history and fake anthropology that the multi-culti racists have been promoting for some years, and it revolves around disinformation and misdirection.

The Amerindians are gilded, sanitized and Disneyized beyond recognition. While avoiding the fundamental fact that nearly all of the Amerindians of North America were Stone Age people, even in 1492, the writers dispense slogans about "complex societies" and "diverse cultures." Do they explain what "complex" means, or how the complexity of a society can be gauged? Of course not; the peddlers of fake anthropology never do. (See "Advanced Fakery" in TTL, July-August 1994, page 11.) Do they describe any of those "diverse cultures"? No. There is a map that names and locates several dozen Amerindian cultures that existed in AD 1500, but there is no account of any of them. Instead, the writers give several pages to an incoherent display of sanitized factoids and fluffy claims about Indian languages, dwellings, temples, monuments, agriculture, social structures and so on, along with some photos of Indian structures and handicrafts.

This is topped off with a smarmy "Science and Technology" article about Indians' use of fire for purposes such as slash-and-burn agriculture: "The controlled use of fire," the writers declare, "became an important technology, ingeniously developed and utilized by the Woodland Indians." The writers imply that the technology which they have cited was unique to the Woodland Indians, but this implication is false. The same technology was developed independently by many different peoples.

The West Africans, too, are glorified and whitewashed. There are photos of African sculptures and there is a map of "African Kingdoms and Cultures," but the writers don't tell about the trans-Saharan slave trade that helped to keep the West African kingdoms prosperous. In a display of Afrocentric sloganeering, they report that the city of Timbuktu (in Mali) had a university -- a factoid so thoroughly irrelevant to American history that it seems weird even in this absurd book. [See "The Hidden Truth" on page 9 of this issue.]

Now, what do you suppose the Europeans were doing while those Indians and Africans were erecting temples, instituting "complex" societies, controlling fire, taking courses at Timbuktu U, and making sculptures? Not much. As far as one can tell from this book, the Europeans of the 1300s and 1400s were a uniformly dull lot, bereft of any cultural variations worth mentioning, who did little but to build ships, sail about, and engage in trade. There is not a single photo to depict European art or architecture. There is not a word about Dante, Erasmus, Brunelleschi, Bramante or Leonardo; not a word about Donatello, Giotto, Ghiberti or Botticelli; not a word about Raphael, Machiavelli, Gutenberg, Dürer or the van Eycks. All of these, and the cultures that they represented, have been erased. All of Europe's universities, too, have been erased. The same writers who contrived to mention the university at Timbuktu have hidden the fact that there were universities all over Europe.

Pervasive Distortion

Such distortion pervades all the rest of the book, as the writers dispense their propaganda, promote their multi-culti stereotypes, and glorify the groups that have been officially certified as Victims by the multi-culti politburo. For example:

It is worth noting that the false depiction of Copland is one of the few instances in which the writers say anything at all about music. Their usual approach to music in America is to erase it. They erase Gottschalk, Bernstein, Stern and Ives; they erase the Boston Symphony and the Metropolitan Opera; they erase Graham, Perlman, Koussevitzky and Thomson; they erase Barber, Duncan, Sousa, Menuhin and Levine; they erase, erase, erase -- and they mock their own claim that they have used "Arts and Humanities" as a theme of their book.

'Tis the gift to be simple

Defensive Measures

The writers' essential obliviousness to music, and to the arts in general, is part of a broad pattern: They have erased nearly all of America's intellectual life. They certainly have erased the institutions in which America's intellectual life has been centered, i.e., the universities. As far as I can see, the only American university that they mention is the University of California, and they mention it only in connection with the use of racial quotas in admissions.

This isn't surprising, because the far left's defenses against intellectualism and scholarship are the same as the far right's: First, pretend that intellectualism and scholarship do not exist; if this fails, and if their existence must be acknowledged, dismiss them as nugatory or condemn them as evil.

The treatment of science in West's book is nasty, evidently reflecting the multi-culti crowd's basic anti-intellectualism and their special, virulent hostility toward science, scientific medicine, and science-based technology. (See TTL, November-December 1994, page 1.) In West's "history," scientific medicine seems not to exist at all, and the book's index doesn't even have an entry for public health. Science per se is dispatched in some token mentionings like this one: "American scientists do more research than anyone [sic] else in the world. No fewer than 101 out of 177 Nobel Prizes were awarded to Americans in physics, chemistry, and physiology and medicine between 1965 and 1993." That's all. Those prizewinners have no names, and there isn't a word to suggest what any of them did or discovered.

How about technology? Allusions to technology occur chiefly in nine articles labeled "Science and Technology," and I've already noted one of them; it's that baloney about the Woodland Indians and fire. Most of the others are silly because, despite the label, they don't elucidate any science or technology. As a rule, the articles just mention things, such as dive bombers and "alternative energy technologies," without telling what they are, how they work, what problems they are intended to overcome, or who invented them.

Silliness is supplanted by outright viciousness, however, when West's writers produce a long passage titled "Biotechnology," in the book's last chapter. Their aim, evidently, is to convince students that two indescribable things called "biotechnology" and "genetic engineering" are posing horrific threats to civilization. The writers start with some statements that are right or almost right, but they soon launch into a splurge of fake "facts," false implications and spooky incantations. For example:

The fear-mongering that the writers have presented under the heading "Biotechnology" is surely outstanding as an example of anti-intellectual propaganda. Yet the writers come close to matching it when they present an article that plugs immigration. Titled "The Children of Immigrants," the article is another pile of slogans, and its apparent purpose is to convince students that the United States can support an infinite influx of immigrants and an infinite population.

West's writers adopt a staunchly anti-intellectual stance, denying both the science and the history of the 20th century. They flatly ignore population biology, they ignore all the ecological implications of immigration, and they conclude with this: "Always a nation of immigrants, the United States is once again gathering in new ethnic groups from different parts of the world. As these immigrants, our `new pilgrims,' recreate the American dream, the benefits to our country could be enormous."

They don't tell what that means, and they refuse to name even one of those alleged "benefits."

Incidentally, the same article -- verbatim, but with a slightly different title -- has appeared in another of West Publishing's books, dated in 1995.

This concludes my analysis, and I now can return my copy of In the Course of Human Events to the shelf. I keep it next to Mein Kampf and the collected works of Louis Farrakhan. They are all of a piece.


John D. Fonte is an adjunct scholar at the American Enterprise Institute (Washington, DC). He holds a doctorate in history from the University of Chicago, has taught history at the college and secondary-school levels, and has served as a senior research associate at the United States Department of Education. He also has been a prominent critic of the American-history "standards" that were promoted by Gary Nash and Charlotte Crabtree in 1994. His articles exposing and refuting those "standards" have appeared in the Boston University Journal of Education, The Chronicle of Higher Education, National Review and SOCIETY, among other publications.

Walter A. McDougall is a professor of international relations and history at the University of Pennsylvania. He also is the editor of Orbis, an international-affairs journal published by the Foreign Policy Research Institute (in Philadelphia). In 1986 he won a Pulitzer Prize in history for his book The Heavens and the Earth: A Political History of the Space Age. His newest book, Promised Land, Crusader State: America's Encounter with the World Since 1776, has just been published by Houghton Mifflin.

William J. Bennetta is a professional editor, a fellow of the California Academy of Sciences, the president of The Textbook League, and the editor of The Textbook Letter. He writes frequently about the propagation of quackery, false "science" and false "history" in schoolbooks.

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