In the interests of fairness . . .
It’s not only the current Russian government that’s preoccupied with issues of historical falsification. In connection with another project, I serendipitously stumbled across a 1923 crusade by the state of Wisconsin to fight invidious falsifiers of the War of 1812. Today, of course, we’d be pleased to find someone who cares enough about the War of 1812 to bother to falsify it, but we’re dealing here with a simpler time.
Anyway, let me quote the statute, which I get courtesy of the American HIstorical Review 28.4 (July 1923), p. 699–JSTOR has it if your institution has access:
No history or other text-book shall be adopted for use or be used in any district school, city school, vocational school, or high school which falsifies the facts regarding the war of independence, or the war of 1812, or which defames our nation’s founders or misrepresents the ideals and causes for which they struggled and sacrificed, or which contains propaganda favorable to any foreign government.
No penalties for textbook authors, but districts which continue to use textbooks found to be guilty of falsifying are subject to revocation of state aid.
Now as best as I can find through on canvassing of Wisconsin’s online statute book, this law has long since become a dead letter. Perhaps some bright MA student in the UW system can do a thesis on the circumstances that produced the law–I’d speculate that it’s post-World War I isolationism and resentment of a war perceived to have been fought in the interests of the British–hence the focus on the revolutionary war and 1812, and not on anything else.
But the absurdity of this law, I think, highlights the absurdity of efforts to fight historical falsification more generally. For one, it is an effort by the state of Wisconsin to dictate the coverage of events which took place when Wisconsin was not a state and to which Wisconsin was not party–are you listening, Russian Federation President Dmitrii Medvedev? For two, this is clearly action not in service of an abstract quest for the truth, but in service of some particular political ax-to-grind now lost to us in the sands of time. After all, was there REALLY a problem of high school textbooks in Wisconsin carrying foreign propaganda, or are we dealing with interpretations at odds with the views of some crusading state legislator?