The Right’s War On AP History Is All About Building Better Soldiers

On Tuesday, the Oklahoma state legislature voted to remove AP History from school curriculums. Their reasoning? The classes taught too much of the “bad” parts of American history, and not enough of the good. They taught about internment camps during World War II, that “Manifest Destiny” was a generally unpleasant experience for non-white people, and that the country has made some mistakes in the past.

They want schools to instead teach students about how super great and not-at-all racist the Founding Fathers were. They want them to “teach” patriotism. They want to teach them that we have always gone to war for the right reasons. They want them to think Manifest Destiny was about “spreading Democracy and technology.” They want to teach them about American Exceptionalism. This is becoming more and more of a thing in our redder states these days.

You know what this is called, right? It is called propaganda. They are mad that we are teaching students actual history instead of propaganda. They are concerned that students will come out of all this learning and not think America is super great and wonderful in every way.

Both the concept of “teaching patriotism” and the idea of “American Exceptionalism” send chills up my spine. I cannot help but read it as “We’re gonna lie to you so you think we’re great”–and that gives me the creeps.

The term American Exceptionalism originally meant a different thing than conservatives are talking about now. It was used by Communists who believed that, due to the newness of the country and the fact that it did not ever have a structured class system in the way other countries did, that it was more or less immune to Marx’s theory of history.

What it means now, of course is that “God likes America best and THEREFORE, we can do whatever the fuck we want. Because we’re special.”

There’s a reason this particular mindset is very important to some people.

America, as a country, is nearly 239 years old. Out of those 239 years, there have only been 21 in which we were not at war.

Someone has to fight those wars.

You don’t build martyrs by telling them “Our God is a pretty OK dude. Sure, he has his flaws here and there, but he’s mostly all right. And he loves you exactly as much as he loves everyone else.” No. You build martyrs by telling them that “God is perfect in every way, and he has chosen you for his message, because you are special.” Soldiers are, for all intents and purposes, potential martyrs for their country.

People are more likely to want to go to war for a country, to kill for a country, to possibly die for a country that they believe is special and perfect in every way. If America wants to continue being at war, we need to fool a heck of a lot of people into believing that.

It’s also pretty nice to have a compliant populace to go along with you when you do go to war.

Republicans are not marketing themselves as the party of stupid because their establishment is stupid. They are the party of stupid because stupid people are a heck of a lot easier to manage than smart people.

Think about it–gather up a bunch of idiots who don’t believe in global warming, who think fetuses can be born at 20 weeks, who don’t believe in evolution, who find it “annoying” when people talk about issues concerning race or labor issues, and tell them that they are super special because of where they happened to be born and definitely way smarter than all those smug college professors and scientists out there, and you can do pretty much whatever the hell you want. Work on increasing that population by fucking with schools, and you’re setting yourself up real nice and pretty for the future.

This isn’t a conspiracy. If you can’t recognize a phrase like “American Exceptionalism” to be the most obvious propaganda word on the planet, then I don’t know how to help you. “Teaching patriotism” is also propaganda. Clearly. What else would propaganda be? What possible purpose would “teaching patriotism” serve other than the obvious? You think they just want to boost your self-esteem because they’re nice?

I want people to be able to recognize when wars are wrong. I want them to recognize when we are not treating people right. I want them to learn from our history so we aren’t doomed to repeat it.

History is not the Bible. It’s not all perfect stories about perfect people and their perfect lives and how they never did anything wrong. It’s not always a clear cut case of who the good guys and the bad guys are. If someone tells you a bunch of stories where they always seem to come out a hero, you can be about 99% sure that they are lying to your face. People are flawed, our country is flawed, and that’s OK as long as we keep trying to improve. We don’t improve by pretending things are great and have always been so. We improve by looking critically at our past and doing our best to change our future for the better.