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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    When facts become the past

    Every moment, the present becomes the past. And when enough moments pass, recent memory becomes history.

    As veterans of bygone wars, prisoners of old régimes and survivors of various atrocities age and pass away, we lose the last people who bore firsthand witness to history. The result of this loss is a “”black wall”” which slowly approaches from the past, eroding our ability to make substantive knowledge claims about history and replacing what used to be common knowledge with ill-informed skepticism and impotent doubt.

    In a recent survey of 3,000 Britons by UKTV Gold, 23 percent of respondents claimed that Winston Churchill was a myth, whereas 58 percent thought that Sherlock Holmes was real.

    These are rather extreme examples of ignorance – but they show that historical revisionism has entrenched itself rather deeply in our cultural zeitgeist. More moderate theories which proclaim that William Shakespeare, Homer or Jesus Christ never existed are gaining adherents, as well, with varying degrees of legitimacy. Other theories arguing that well-documented historical events with large numbers of eyewitnesses were nothing but fabrications or the results of mass hysteria have slowly but steadily increased in popularity as time has marched on. Of course, the 9/11 “”Truth”” Movement remains as valid an example as ever – and as 9/11 recedes into the past, it will only become more popular.

    Perhaps none of these modes of historical skepticism is more insidious than the Holocaust denial movement, a cobbled-together association of white supremacists, anti-Semites and outright morons which asserts that there was no systematic extermination campaign in Nazi Germany, that the real number of Jews killed in World War II was on the order of a few hundred thousand at most and that the Holocaust “”myth”” was pushed by Allied forces wanting to justify the war and Zionists seeking moral capital for the establishment of Israel.

    The movement’s supporters claim that the evidence for the accepted hypothesis – that roughly six million Jews and seven million other Europeans were murdered during the Nazi reign – is sketchy and inconclusive at best.

    As the last eyewitnesses to history are consumed by the aforementioned black wall, it becomes all too easy for ignorance to replace history – and flagrant stupidity is never far behind. How long will it be until people claim that George Washington was really a mythical amalgamation of several Revolution-era generals – or that Winston Churchill never existed? Oh, wait, that’s already happening.

    If the encroaching darkness frightens you, take a minute to look at the bright side: We can all learn a little something from the crazy side of the fence.

    For example, the Holocaust denial movement is notorious for its insistence that Allied atrocities in the war are just as bad as, if not worse than, those of the Nazi state. There’s a small amount of truth to this: While nothing our country did can really compare to genocide, neither side’s hands were fully clean for the entirety of the war. The few reasonable claims of so-called Holocaust “”revisionists”” are reminders that even in the most just wars, injustice occurs on both sides.

    The 9/11 Truth Movement likewise imparts to us a small lesson. It’s unlikely that the most incompetent administration in recent memory really had the resources or the brains to mastermind the World Trade Center attacks, but the “”truthers”” are completely right when they insist that it’s a bad idea to be too trusting of our government.

    More importantly, patently false claims force Americans at large to understand historical issues in a deeper context. Unless you understand the mountains of evidence which suggest that the Apollo Moon landing, the Holocaust, the 9/11 Pentagon attack and so on were not faked or exaggerated, it’s extrememly difficult to refute the claims that they were.

    And really, isn’t that what we should be demanding? If you’ve never examined at least some of this evidence, you can’t really claim to “”know”” that it happened. It’s rather convenient that skeptics claim to demand more inquiry into historical events – such inquiry is usually the best weapon against their claims.

    The cries of deniers and revisionists are really little more than warning signs of the oncoming black abyss, and the best way to combat its onset is to gaze into it for yourself. While you’re at it, bring a flashlight – you just might see the abyss gazing back into you.

    Taylor Kessinger is a junior majoring in math, philosophy and physics. He can be reached at letters@wildcat.arizona.edu.

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