Posts tagged ‘Kenneth Davis Don’

Don't Know Much Good About America

One of the ways I like to pass the time on long drives (we went to San Diego this week with the kids) is to listen to audio books in the car.  For this trip, my wife picked out Kenneth Davis's Don't know much About History.  This particular version had been edited down to a quick 3-1/2 hours.

Its of course impossible to edit American history down to this short of a time, but we thought it might be enjoyable for the kids.  Also, I am used to the general "America sucks and its heros suck too" tone of most modern revisionist history, so I was kind of prepared for what I was going to get from a modern academician.   But my God, the whole history of this country had been edited down to only the bad stuff.  Columbus as a source of genocide -- the pettiness of American grievances in the revolution -- the notion that all the ideals of the Revolution were so much intellectual cover for rich men getting over on the masses -- the alien and sedition acts -- slavery -- massacre of Indians and trail of tears -- more slavery -- civil war -- mistreatment of the South after the war by the North -- more massacre of Indians -- Brown vs. board of education -- the great depression as the great failure of laissez faire economics -- did Roosevelt know about Pearl Harbor in advance -- McCarthyism -- racism and civil rights movement.   All of this with numerous snide remarks about evil corporations and rich people and the never-ending hosing of the poor and women/blacks/Indians (often in contexts entirely unrelated to what he is talking about, such that the remark is entirely gratuitous).

That's as far as we have gotten so far, but I am really giving you a pretty honest outline of the segments.   I have zero problem admitting that America's treatment of its native populations was shameful and worth some modern soul-searching.  Ditto slavery.  But to focus solely on this litany, with nothing about the rising tide of standard of living for even the poorest, of increasing health and longevity, of the intelligent ways we managed expansion (like the homestead act), of having the wealth and power to defeat fascism and later communism in the 20th century when no one else could do it.  Of creating, in fits and starts and with many long-delayed milestones, the freest country in the world.  Of a history where every other democratic revolution of the 18th and 19th century failed and fell into chaos and dictatorship but this one succeeded.  He begins the book by saying that he is bravely going to bust all the myths we have grown up with, but in essence helps to reinforce the #1 myth of our era:  That America is a bad actor on the world stage and less moral than the countries around us.

Which of course, is insane.  And remember, I am the first one to criticize our government over any number of issues, but the moral relativism that academics apply to America represents a shameless lack of correct context.  To borrow from a famous saying, I am willing to admit that America has the most shameful history, except for that of every other country in the world.

I don't even deny that a book with the premise that "schools and media often gloss over the bad stuff, so I want to let you know that America has a dark side too" would be a perfectly viable project.  However, this book represents itself as a general history text, and does not claim this particular mission as its context.  By the way, I am not sure what country he is living in if he thinks this stuff is not taught in schools.  My kids' schools totally wallow on all the bad stuff - the racism, the environmental problems, etc.  I would be willing to bet more graduates of public schools today could answer "Maintenance of slavery" to the question "what was the biggest failure of the Constitution" than they could answer the question "Why did the US Constitution succeed when so many other democratic revolutions failed?"  The latter is a much more interesting question.  Of course, in this audio book, predictably, Mr. Davis addresses the former in great depth and never even hints at the latter.