Thursday, May 31, 2007

A response of sorts

We don't update HIAW everyday, but we do respond to History Is A Weapon email, pay attention to new links, and work on various ventures to be unveiled in the future. So we were pleasantly surprised to discover a sharp jump in visitors yesterday after our popular map, Everything you ever wanted to know about U.S. foreign policy that history books tend to neglect, got picked up by reddit and made it to their front page. A lot of people must have voted for it to make it that high up and we say thanks.
But the squeaky wheel gets the grease and there is a long comment string on reddit debating the merits of the map, to which we offer a response. First, we agree that it could've been designed better and we've been looking for a flash designer to improve it. Second, while we know we're not revealing any secrets, we are missing a lot of stuff and are still making additions (as it says on the map, we welcome contributions).

But there were a few criticisms that we thought didn't hold much water and while a number of people made perfectly good arguments against these criticisms, we still want to dis them ourselves because we're human and it gets on our nerves.

  1. People who said we were biased: the name of the map is literally "Everything you ever wanted to know about U.S. foreign policy that history books tend to neglect," which explicitly points out which side we're biased towards. While we'll debate and refute the b.s. hagiography and mythologizing that passes for American history, we know that we're doing so within a context where those histories (the b.s. hagiography et al.) are the dominant ones. We're confident that enough people have enough sense to understand this stuff. We want people to be critical and come to an understanding of not only their history, but why some histories are promoted and others are silenced. It's absurd to suggest that there are people who get every morsel of their understanding of history from History Is A Weapon, which is why it's dumb to act like we're somehow shirking our responsibility because we think the stories of Vietnamese Women and American Soldiers and peace activists deserve a moment in the the spotlight.

  2. People who ragged on Noam Chomsky and Ward Churchill as our sources: This isn't personal and it isn't about personalities. These ad hominem arguments are frustrating enough for us to write this long screed. It is relatively unimportant that we appreciate the tremendous, and tireless, academic work that Ward Churchill has done or that we love Noam Chomsky and think that he is one of the greatest people in the world. Regardless of what you think of their ideas, they both have gigantic bibliographies to back up what they're saying. There was a funny interview with Chomsky where this reporter gushingly asked how he could become as smart as him and Chomsky said (completely paraphrasing here) "read the footnotes and the bibliography. Don't just take my word for it, I could be lying about all of this stuff. There's a reason that I put the bibliography in there. It's not about just trusting me. It's about understanding how to teach yourself how to understand this world we're in." We delight in adding, of course, that both Chomsky and Churchill depend much on the record-keeping of the institutions and political actors that they criticize. We suspect that the reason people avoid attacking Chomsky and Churchill's bibliographies is because it would introduce a much bigger can of worms in their own minds.

  3. People who implied that we're unethical nutbags: Perhaps this note isn't helping our case on the nutty front, but we didn't toss our ethics when we got political. We do have an agenda: we think a world with peace and justice is possible and we think that capitalism and the combination of oppressions - patriarchy, white supremacy, etc - are the main hurdles to this better world. None of this is hidden behind a curtain. Type in if you want to get our introductory statement. But we don't lie about it and we don't appreciate suggestions that we're untrustworthy because we have politics.

(edited for clarity)



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5:46 PM  

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