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tv   On Contact with Chris Hedges  RT  September 16, 2017 11:01pm-11:30pm EDT

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are rewarded for buttressing the ruling social structure producing heavy tomes of the ruling elites and ignoring the underlying social forces that have been the true engines of social and political change in the united states most academics are complicit in masking the inconvenient facts that tarnish the myth facts about genocide slavery class repression racism and the lies told by the ruling elites the mass media and powerful institutions to justify power historians who are apologists for the past are rewarded and promoted truth tellers are often marginalized in this struggle to discern the truth of our past is being played out with the popular revolt against the confederate monuments. joined today by professor eric foner the pulitzer prize winning historian and de witt clinton professor of history at columbia university he is one of the country's foremost scholars of american history from his first book free soil free labor free men the idiology of the
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republican party before the civil war to his books on reconstruction and slavery tom paine and the underground railroad has shattered the myths we tell ourselves about ourselves to shine a fierce and uncompromising light on our nation's past a past that informs our present his latest book is battles for freedom the use and abuse of american history thank you and i should add not only are you a brilliant historian but you can write which makes me wonder how you ever got into academia thank you thank you because i appreciate a letter that when i worked as a reporter at the new york times we used to say that. we manipulated facts they were facts they were verifiable facts but we could spin them any way we wanted to and i i think when i read your stuff that you would agree that that's also true about historians yeah in a lot of ways it is i mean we do we're not novelists we do not invent facts we don't in. that dialogue from the past you know that we leave that to the novelists
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who sometimes who very good job of it but you know one of the things a lot of people don't quite understand about the writing of history is history is the creation of the istari and in other words the narrative is is a product of your imagination the how you put the facts together how you choose what is a fact and so for almost any important subject in american history or any history there are many different interpretations out there and there's nothing unusual about that people have preconceptions they have different ideas of what's important and they care the history to their own interests and to the interests of their own time that they're writing in and as a result you come up with a lot of different histories which is partly what makes it interesting to study you make a couple points one is that any writing of history is grounded in the moment is responding to the contemporary moment but also you talk about you know what we might call the lie of omission what nietzsche calls creative forgetfulness that that
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amnesia i mean you say at one point that amnesia best describes america's official stance regarding slavery but it is what we omit that so much shapes our perception of ourselves and we're watching that now with the whole turmoil around confederate monuments in the south right call becker of the istari in the road you know that history is what the president chooses to remember. and then you choose to forget things too so yes when i was in high school i got a in my history textbooks a story of american history which was very one dimensional it was all about the rise of freedom and liberty and all this kind of thing slavery was omitted almost entirely the general plight of african-americans and other non whites were pretty much omitted from the story so it was very partial it was very limited and that's the same thing with all the statues in the debate you just mentioned you know i'm not one of those as tear down every single statue of every confederate all over the
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place but if you step back and look at the public presentation of history particularly in the south through these monuments and things. where the black people of the south where the monuments to lynching right where is the monument to slavery to begin with the victims of slavery with the monument to the victims of lynching the monument to the black leaders of reconstruction the first black senators and members of congress my view is as well as taking down some statues i think we need to put up others if we want to have a public commemoration of history it or to be diverse enough to include the whole history not just the history that those in power want us to remember you write in the book about how. this creates a kind of you quote low and a landscape of denial what do you mean by that well low in the james low and very good star and wrote a book called lies across america which is exactly about monuments and the lack of
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monuments and those that exist what they what they say for example there was a monument that was now taken down it's sort of in limbo in new orleans to the white league which during reconstruction was a racist organization which had an uprising trying to our military yeah try to overthrow the government the biracial government of louisiana and there was a monument to the battle of liberty place and the. ronit said you know they gave us they tried to give us back our state well who was the us it's the white louisianans who could not come to terms with the fact that black people were exercising significant political power at the time. so that's a very warped that's a denial of the actual history of the period and there are many many monuments that suffer from that as low and others have been pointing out in the book you write about an exhibit about the west in the smithsonian so it's coupled with
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this landscape of denial this historical amnesia is a deification of in this case westward expansion that is a lie well you know as you well know the mythology of the west is deeply rooted in our culture whether it's in western movie is you know of which there are good zillion of them or the idea of the lone pioneer or you know and the sort of individual who you know roughing it out in the west and of course basically the main lie there is that the west was kind of empty before white settlers and hunters and trappers and others farmers came from the east to settle it in fact the west has been populated forever and the real story of the west is the clash of all these different peoples native americans asians in california settlers coming in from the east. mexicans in the west is a very multicultural place there were
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a lot of history is there but many of those histories a kind of ignored or subordinated in this one the story of the westward while you middle back and look at the particular world view of the artists in this case who are perpetuating that vision west and they are rabidly racist yeah that that exhibit at the smithsonian was actually meant to deconstruct so to speak the mythology. tree and to preserve which it was attacked oh and that's the point i wrote about the controversy a many people don't want to hear it they don't want their mythology to be taken apart or or complicated and so there was a lot of criticism of this of the smithsonian for challenging the more traditional view of western history the west is very is a multi-racial place and racism is certainly part of western history but you're not going to get that from a john wayne movie you're not going to get that from many of the richard slotkin yet right about the paintings by remington and others you not going to get that
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aspect of western history so but the problem is really not simply oh well this is not accurate or it's inadequate it's that that's a history which doesn't help you understand is not presents not true it's a myth right but in a way that's not even the worst thing about it the worst thing is that if you are that myth you can understand the present hilarious actos to give you that's right insight into the present and that history could not have produced the present we're envelops now in country that believe that just confused myth with history which means they can understand the present well there are i think in some ways our understanding of history has gotten a little more sophisticated over the over my fifty one that has such a place as like columbia. and in the high schools textbooks but you're right about well you write about of the tech the rewriting of textbooks in texas yeah well texas is a funny place and that leaves them in their own little corner yes texas has this
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school board commission which vets the textbooks you could use in high school in texas and unless they had here to the idiology of that commission you're not going to get into the details white supremacy. program fetter it it's only white supremacy it's limited you know it's current republicanism limited government deregulation that sort of thing. and definitely has a strong white supremacist element to it but the texas market is gigantic i mean you know where was the problem with texas is that so many other states because it's strike and use those textbooks well that's a problem because a publisher is not going to say all right we're printing these books out of texas but then we're going to print other books for other states they don't do that they've got a textbook if they have to modify it for texas that'll be the way the text would go so i think that is a problem in wouldn't you say that i mean look at with the rise of donald trump i
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mean isn't this based on a completely on a complete fattest sea of america who we are where we can isn't it well trump certainly as we have seen in the past few weeks appeals directly to those who have a particular view of what you might call a white supremacist view of of america of american history i wrote a little piece in the new york times questioning when he talked about our history the taking down statues is you know is ruining our history who would be our who is that our it's a very limited group it's it's white people particularly it's for confederate people i'm not claiming that that trump is a neo nazi in and frankly he doesn't even have enough political ideas to be called in the sea but his general you know approaches to appeal to those elements of his base who are the most retrograde and so yes it does come with a view of americans and that and that goes back to what you call the cult of the
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lost cause about the civil war which is becomes vital to how these people perceive america perhaps you can talk about that well the last cause was you know an idea developed mostly in the eighteen ninety's and then a little bit after that which glorified the confederacy romanticize slavery and basically tried to write slavery out of the history of the civil. even to the point where you are right that they will claim that there were blacks fighting i mean because of course figures like nathan bedford forrest took his slaves with him. for the writer see but unfortunately if you go on the internet today you can find websites devoted to the blacks fighting in the confederacy but this is a myth at the there was there was certainly blacks working in the army camps every army as you well know has all sorts of civilian people working for it whether it's
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teamsters or laundress says or construction workers or many many other things and some people did bring this slaves along and the government impressed slaves to work for the but these are not soldiers in a combat troops the number at the very end of the war like the last month the confederacy began putting a handful of black soldiers into the army around richmond when just before it fell but around petersburg but you know but yeah there's this mythology of the confederacy as a kind of a multi-cultural it was a way to deny that it was about slipping yeah it was about section of slaves and this is a myth but unfortunately like many things on the internet you can find it even though it is admits it's out there and there are people who are propagating it all right when we come back we'll hear more from professor eric foner. what you have for breakfast yesterday why would you pick up your wife.
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now i could give you. all. here's what people have been saying about rejected in the. just pull on. the only show i go out of my way to you know a lot of the really packed a punch. is the john oliver of marty americans do the same we are apparently better than. the c. . heard of love back to the night president of the world bank. really. seriously send us an e-mail. with chris. welcome
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back to on contact let's get back to our conversation with professor eric foner author of battles for freedom the use and abuse of american history i want to talk about the nature of what it means to write history and you. say that there are three approaches to the writing of history the monumental the antiquarian and the critical. right well the monumental is the history that glorifies basically the nation state that is represented in monuments that do not question anything about the society and a lot of history is like that a lot of you know the rise of history as a discipline coincided with the rise of the nation state and every every nation needs a kind of set of myths to justify its own existence that's why another of my favorite writers ernest or anon the french istari and wrote long ago the historian is the enemy of the nation he doesn't mean that they're spies or anything he comes along and takes apart the mythologies that are helping to underpin the legitimacy of the
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nation so monumental historian right but that's why people don't like them very often they don't want to hear these things ok antiquarian is what a lot of people are and that's fine they're looking for their personal routes they're looking for their family history they're going on ancestry dot com to find out where the d.n.a. came from that's not really history exactly they don't really have much of a historical context but it stimulates people to think about the past and then there's would need to call a critical history or i also said the history that judges and condemns in other words it takes a model stance it doesn't just relate to facts it decide tells you what is good and what is evil and a lot of stars don't quite like to do that but to me it's important it's important for the istari and having done the research having presented the history to say i look this is my here's where i stand in relation to all these important issues of our history and this you're reading this about howard zinn i wrote about zinn
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because certainly he was an example of what nature calls critical history his people's history of the united states you know has sold i don't know two million copies a more very influential book you know there are things wrong with that book as there are with almost any book but what i found as a teacher is i've had. many students good students whose interest in history was stimulated by how i think i told i taught it in a prison and it he is very cognizant of the african-american experience from the beginning when washington throws african american soldiers out of the continental army and end it electrified my students well it open the people hope it opens their eyes they say wait a minute this is not what i was taught in high school i'm talking about college students see if this is not what i've heard this is a different view of lehrer our story it's not the story of the powerful and it gets people interested to go and do more reading and do more research and you know how it was i knew him reasonably well he was a courageous guy he was
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a very. you know friendly and just open minded guy and nobody could accuse howard zinn of being like a foreign agent i mean if he was a pilot in world war two you know he's a middle american guy this guy was a homegrown american he was not some foreign idiology infiltrating into the united states well i think one of your you write an essay in there about bernie sanders saying let's you know it's tough talk about denmark let's talk about deb's yeah anyway and this came during the. campaign when bernie was trying to get the democratic nomination in two thousand and sixteen and yes someone asked him what do you mean by democratic socialism he said well we should be like denmark and i just said you know bernie that's not know most people and i don't know anything about denmark and don't really care that much about denmark and more to the point as you said there is an indigenous american radical tradition that we ought to be identifying with whether it's frederick douglass eugene debs elizabeth cady stanton
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luther king jr those are the people who are trying to make america a better place and that's the tradition those others become sanitised they hang you talk about helen keller of committed socialists right now king is particularly king was a very radical guy and yet every you know january. we always see is king up at the lincoln memorial rosena nine hundred sixty he rose in his one speech even one sentence you know i want my children to be judged you know by the content of their character not just the color of their skin that's not what the whole civil rights movement was about the king people forget he died leading a poor people's march leading a strike of sanitation workers he wasn't just out there talking about civil rights he had moved to economic inequality as a fundamental issue and bernie picked that up and bernie should be saying hey i am following in a great american tradition of you you make a point about that i thought was very interesting and you talk about the practical
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politicians as opposed to the utopian social reformers and in particular the abolitionists who you said their first task was to destroy the conspiracy of silence by which political parties churches and other institutions so to exclude slavery from public debate and then you go on and you say for most of the eight hundred fifty s. the first two years of the civil war lincoln widely considered the model of a pragmatic politician advocated a series of plans to end slavery gradual a mass of patient monetary compensation setting up colonies to send black african-americans out of the country to settle you call the harebrained scheme that had no possibility of a nachman it was the abolitionists still viewed by some historians as irresponsible fanatics that put forward the program in a media and uncompensated end of slavery with black people becoming u.s. citizens that came to pass and that's pretty good writing. you know that's exactly
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right and i've written a lot about lincoln that's my time period the civil war reconstruction and yes. there's a whole lincoln industry out there i of contributed to it which seems like it has the absolute model of the practical politician but in fact lincoln's ideas were not practical at all what was good. right about lincoln was he changed he was able to change when lincoln saw that his ideas were not working he moved to other ideas he wasn't stubborn he was a stuck in his ways he was not too prideful to say i was wrong you know the abolitionists who are generally considered absolutely fanatical impractical z. their policy came to be so that is. somewhere in there you know what is possible would never have been possible and in your book other people had not asked for the impossible so it's this symbiotic connection between radical demand and practical implementation that i think we need to try to look for what you studied
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with hofstetter and he said american history was characterized by broad agreement on fundamentals particularly the virtues of individual liberty private property and capitals enterprise arguing an essence that the divisions that historians write about in american history are minor well he was associated very closely with what they called the consensus school which argued that there was an overriding consensus yes democrats versus whigs republicans versus democrats it's all kind of a family quarrel without any genuine serious disagreements and the other side of that coin is the people who didn't have. serious disagreements a kind of fanatics there outside the mainstream or a phrase he used that became very prominent lately the paranoid style there's psychologically the reins to the someway and you know so that the people in consensus a normal and stable in the people criticizing from the outside
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a paranoid and irresponsible now hofstetter himself began to move away from that in the one nine hundred sixty s. when he saw the society forming a part in all of this turmoil and the consensus vision could not explain this if there's no disagreement in america why are hundreds of thousands of people in the street every weekend. so hostile to move beyond that but nonetheless that that consensus view certainly did have a strong hold on american till it does now doesn't it through i mean you talk about neo liberalism i think you get a zombie you know that no it's dead but still warm stared at still walking but out it was that is our consensus well that after all who was it fukuyama who said that's right we've reached the end of history in other words there's nothing more to debate there's no more disk this disagreement about what the best form of society is from you know from the late eighty's maybe until two thousand and eight that was it neo liberalism whether democrat or republican didn't matter obama bush
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clinton reagan there were only a lib and that was true i think hofstetter was writing about the early american history which was this lokki and deification of private property right but then you get to like to say how do you explain the civil war within a consensus point of view the only way to do that is with some is starting to say well it was all a big mistake you know the blundering generation the needless war it takes the fundamental issue of slavery sort of out of the out of the narrative but yeah there was this neo liberal consensus that was shattered by two thousand and eight the fed the little liberalism failed abysmally and we're still living in that wreckage it's the as i said it's a zombie movement now because it's dead. still alive but nonetheless nothing really viable has come to take it's well it's i mean you know we're this moment of morbidity i want to read a quote. the search for a nonexistent objectivity has led us ironically into a particularly retrogressive subjectivity that of the bystander which he condemns
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and i think you do yeah i mean i don't think the istari and objectivity is an interesting and often misunderstood word i tell my students what objectivity means is you have an open mind not an empty mind there is no person who doesn't have preconceptions values assumptions and you bring those to the study of history what it means to be objective is if you begin and countering evidence research that questions some of your assumptions you may have to change your mind you have to have an open mind in your encounters with the evidence but that doesn't mean you don't take a stand deprived its stance of the bystander is not the right thing you have an obligation if you have done all this study if you've done all this research if you understand key issues in american history better than most people just because you've done the research and they haven't you have an obligation as
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a citizen to speak up about it and to say ok i have studied all this here is my conclusion that doesn't mean everyone has to say oh you're right you're right i'm not going to think for myself but. we should not be bystanders we should be active citizens being a star into being an active citizen is not mutually contradictory well and that is what makes us and greatest obsession with thank you very much i was professor eric foner author of battle for freedom the use and abuse of american history. culture and literacy in our final stage of decline have been replaced with noisy diversions on empty cliches the roman statesman cicero inveighed against their ancient acquittal in the arena cicero for as. honesty was hunted down and murdered his severed head and his right hand nailed to the speaker's platform in the forum the roaring crowds were gleefully told he would never speak or write again we are infected with a toxic mindless cough anie our own version of spectacle and gladiator fights of
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bread and circus pumped out over the airwaves and endless cycles political life has fused into celebrity worship education is primarily folk a tional intellectuals' are cast out and despised artists cannot make a living few people read books thought has been banished especially at universities and colleges where timid pedants and careerists turn out academic drivel although tyranny because it needs no consent may successfully rule over foreign peoples hannah arendt wrote in the origins of totalitarianism it can stay in power only if it destroys first of all the national institutions of its own people and because ours have been destroyed the imbecilic utterings of our degraded culture is tweeted daily in sound bites from the oval office. thank you for watching you can find us
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on r t dot com slash on contact a c n x week. in case you're new to the game this is how it works now the economy is built around corporate perforations from washington to washington. most media the media the. voters elected businessman to run this country business it was. just it's not business as usual it's business like it's never been done before . you guys i made
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