Monday, May 15, 2006

(Re-)Writing History
May 12, 2006

The venue was highly symbolic -- l'Historial de la Grande Guerre, the Museum of the Great War in Peronne, France. Surrounded by gas masks, machine guns and uniforms from the ferocious Battle of the Somme, French and German government officials last week unveiled the world's first history textbook jointly written by authors from two countries.

This historic reconciliation between two former archenemies comes, alas, at the expense of their American ally. The Yanks, who crossed the Atlantic some 90 years ago to stop the carnage in the trenches, only to return a couple of decades later to save Europe again, are cast as the villains in this new version of history.

As every script writer knows, a good story needs a hero as well. That role -- surprise, surprise -- goes to the European Union. Listen to this educational gem from "Histoire/Geschichte: Europe and the World Since 1945," intended for students in their last year of high school: "Through its voluntary cooperation with the South [Third World], its attachment to multilateralism, its dialogue with other regions, the EU appears as a model on the international scene." While acknowledging that Europe's farm policy is judged by some as protectionist, and quite harmful to that "South," the book insists that the EU "represents for many an alternative to the globalization under American hegemony."

Substituting subjective value judgments for rigorous historical analysis strikes us more as indoctrination than education. The Iraq war is criticized as American "unilateralism," while France's single-handed intervention in Ivory Coast isn't mentioned. The book contains the usual accusations of cultural imperialism at the hands of American multinationals, allegedly "the main beneficiaries of the free trade." On this topic, though, the book stresses that the fear of cultural imperialism is more a French preoccupation than a German concern, Peter Geiss, the German co-publisher, told us.

Had it not been for the intervention of the historians from Germany, a country not exactly overflowing with fuzzy feelings for the U.S. these days, the America-bashing would have been even harsher. "The Germans found our texts too anti-American and we found theirs too Atlanticist," Guillaume Le Quintrec, the French co-publisher, told us.

Villifying the U.S. in French schools is nothing new, and goes a long way toward explaining Gallic resentment of America. In a study published last autumn, Barbara Lefebvre and √Čve Bonnivard write that French textbooks reflect "an ideological weakness that leads to the denunciation of a single guilty party [America] in the eyes of the world."

That "ideological weakness" seems to be deeply imbedded in the Gallic subconscious. "I never considered myself anti-American," Mr. Le Quintrec said. "But after talking to the Germans, I realized there was a French culture of anti-Americanism." So at least Mr. Le Quintrec seems to have learned something valuable from this book project. The same will be harder to say for the students who'll be taught to view America as a threat.


Blogger Louis Cyphre said...

Impresionante, somos todos progresistas.

11:31 AM  

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