07 July 2010

History is what you make it


There is no unifying feature of Beck’s “historiography”; he darts from subject to subject, riffing on whatever pops into his head. To get an idea of the curriculum at Glenn Beck U., I watched a few of his recent programs on communism, McCarthy, and 20th century totalitarianism. It wasn’t pretty. In no particular order, a few corrections to Professor Beck’s riffs on the history we “need to know”:

* The Communist Party of the United States didn’t start as the “Communist Working Party” in 1917.
* It is not true that “if you were a Marxist” in 1960s, you were a “Soviet sympathizer,” as former members of the International Socialists can attest.
* The Nazis did not “learn propaganda” from Woodrow Wilson.
* Beck says that “Most of Europe was preparing for war in 1917.” Europe had been at war since 1914; the Americans joined in in 1917.
* The Venona decrypts were not “released in the 1980s,” when the Soviet Union was still in business, but in 1995. Nor was Venona “compiled” by the KGB; Venona was the codename given by United States intelligence services to the collection of intercepts. Incidentally, Beck, demonstrating his lack of familiarity with the subject matter, stumbles when identifying Venona, first calling them the “Verona papers.”
* No one claims Castro was “democratically-elected,” except, perhaps, the brothers Castro themselves.
* Obama’s mother, who grew up in Kansas, did not attend the Elisabeth Irwin School (“The Little Red Schoolhouse”) in New York City.
* Beck’s history of late Weimar Germany manages to be both totally incoherent and completely wrong, such as this comparison of the German Communist Party (KPD) and the Nazis: “The National Socialists, the Nazis, did round up the communists. OK? But the communists, they rounded up the store owners first. Nazis, number two. The old and infirm. Number two on communist's list, farmers and landowners. Three, I think it was Jewish on both sides.”
* A list of “1963 communist goals from the Communist Party USA (CPUSA)” Beck presented on his television show (and available here on his website) are not from the CPUSA, but reprinted from The Naked Communist, a bizarre book of conspiracy authored by John Birch Society lunatic Cleon Skousen.
* In the aftermath of the Israeli attack on the Gaza flotilla, Beck argued that anti-Semitism is the inevitable byproduct of socialism. “Socialism and anti-Semitism have complemented each other throughout history.” “How many [Jews] have to die,” Beck asks, “to remember who keeps killing them?” The idea that anti-Semitism flourishes under left-wing regimes because Jews are associated with capitalism is certainly true, though it ignores the long history of far-right anti-Semitism and the Tsarist-era pogroms and blood libels. In far-right circles, Jews, like Bela Kun and Leon Trotsky, were associated with communism and the revolutionary left.

This was a pretty good summation of the antics:
"Woodrow Wilson was an imperial president who cared little for civil liberties; the New Deal prolonged the Great Depression; the anti-communists were on the right side of history. Yes, yes, and yes. But these stories can be told without exaggeration, without relying on conspiracy, without the rehabilitation of a heavy-drinking senator who believed that Gen. George Marshall was a Soviet agent."

A little fact checking goes a long way.
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