-“A Generous View of History”
Each year as we approach Thanksgiving, we have an opportunity to adopt a generous or miserly view of American History. This makes some of us grateful and it makes some of our fellow citizens angry. I’m grateful that uncritical and unthinking Thanksgiving pageants in the local elementary school with happy Indians and kind Pilgrims are increasingly becoming history themselves. Reckoning with a National Day of Thanksgiving as simultaneously being a National Day of Mourning for native people is good for us. It means our view of history is widening and expanding, allowing for complexity, nuance, including multiple views of events, and this leads to deeper understanding. It allows us to view the world behind us with a wider, more inclusive lens and doing this helps us see our contemporary situation differently.
When Iranian college students attacked and took over the American embassy in Tehran on November 4, 1979, and kept 52 Americans hostages as part of the Islamic revolution that toppled the Iranian government, President Jimmy Carter said it was act of blackmail and the hostages “victims of terrorism and anarchy.” America and Americans were outraged, and this event was a contributing factor in Carter’s landslide loss to Ronald Regan in 1980. A narrow view of history makes it easy to see the Iranian Islamic revolution of 1979 as evil Muslims defeating democracy and arbitrarily punishing innocent Americans by keeping them as hostages. A generous view of history doesn’t excuse the hostage taking, nor does it excuse any wrongdoing by the Islamic revolutionaries at that time and since, but it does help us understand it. In 1953, the CIA led a revolution that toppled a democratically elected government of Iran and used the excuse of that government being socialist to install a regime friendlier to America and its allies,
especially England, and more importantly British and American oil companies who wanted more control of Iranian oil.
In the wake of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, many Americans asked with genuine bewilderment, “Why do THEY hate US?” America responded by waging war in Iraq under false pretense, passing the Patriot Act liming civil liberties, and villainized Muslims. A generous view of history would have helped us respond better without excusing the terrorism and mass murder. A generous view of history helps us understand that the 9-11 terrorist, like many other people around the world viewed (and still do) the United States as a global power that preaches democracy, but practices oppressive colonialism around the world wherever it benefits America’s economic interests.
The current state of affairs in the Middle East can’t be understood without a generous view of history. A narrow and constricted view of history makes it easy to frame Israel and Palestine as a good vs evil scenario, with who is good and who is evil obscured by which side you’re on. A generous view of history looks with a broad lens. It doesn’t justify or excuse the terrorism of Hamas or the apartheid and other human rights violations of the government of Israel (according to the United Nations, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and others), but it helps us
understand. And only with deep understanding can we ever hope to eventually find peaceful solutions.