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WAIS TV programs: Don Emmerson interview

Our esteemed WAISer, Jim Wheelan, withdrew some time ago to a cave in Mexico in order to complete his book on Pinochet. I wrote the posting on July 1, 4, etc. knowing that it would force him to come out into the daylight. Dazed by it, he writes, and I insert my comments in [].

"You force me to emerge from the dungeon, where I toil relentlessly on a book I am quite persuaded will require yet another lifetime to complete, to:

(a)  Put in your hands another kind of document in re the 4th of July.  I received no fewer than seven copies of this, three of them from friends outside the U.S. (in Guatemala, Chile and Great Britain), who found the message of universal value.

[I have received two copies of it, and I  reject it as UNWAIS, since it gives a vehement one-sided picture, without the possibility of comment or rebuttal.]

(b)  Comment quickly, and now from memory, on two-three points in your perorations: [correction, Jim: remarks]

(a)  Brazil freed the slaves fully 40 years after the U.S.  And the
U.S., it ought be remembered, was also the first nation in the hemisphere to ban the slave trade (conducted, of course, by foreigners).

[ By chance this morning I saw an excellent program on the twenty years Frederick Douglass spent in England, where he was very well received and returned to America with the help of abolitionists like William Wilberforce. It was if course England which led the abolitionist movement. The program came from the Frederick Douglass Museum in Washington, D.C, with an excellent black actor giving a speech Douglass made after he returned to this country, telling of his experiences in England.

(b) As for the real causes and meaning of the Civil War, that will need wait for another day.  For the moment, I will remark only that I find a good deal of merit in the description of that bloodbath as "The War of Northern Aggression."  But, this day is almost gone, and I still have not finished the task assigned for the day.

[I suspect that Jim is a Southerner, and, as I once said, there is a Southern version of American history.]

(c) Canadian textbooks -- the ones I have seen -- are quite virulently anti-American.  Canada, it also might be remembered, quite slyly, managed to keep out non-whites throughout all of its history, until no more than 25-30 years ago, when it allowed a trickle of token browns, beginning with the Pakis (targets of merciless racist jokes and discrimination, to be sure).

[As part of my history textbook proposal, Americans should read Canadian textbooks and vice-versa. The piece I referred to above is much more virulent than anything I have seen in Canada.]

(d)  There is a vigorous debate going on right now in Chile about a new history text scheduled to be introduced in the high schools in August. It covers the period through the end of the military government.  The country's leading contemporary historian -- Gonzalo Vial Correa, among many others -- has said it is a grievous error to attempt to present as "history" what, at this point, can only be impressions of the most recent of the four great tumultuous moments in Chilean history.  The texts were written by two professedly leftist persons, winners of a contest conducted by the Education Ministry.

[I would like to see the textbooks used during the Pinochet period].

(e)  In the matter of Mexican history, the essential problem, it seems to me, is the inability of Mexicans to come to grips with their own reality. For example, that non-person, Porfirio Diaz, who gave the country growth, stability and a larger measure of freedom than was the case during most of the 71 years of the PRI dynasties. You will roam the republic in vain, in search of a city, town, village or crossroads, a river, stream of gulch, a monument or roadside marker, bearing his name.  As for the Niños Héroes, (serious) Mexican historians recognized long ago that they weren't a bunch
of boys who wrapped themselves in a Mexican flag and went to the death of martyrs.  They were military cadets -- abandoned, by the way, by their own officers.  When Zedillo, as Education Minister, attempted to change the texts to reflect that reality, some years ago, he was very nearly hooted out of the country.  The texts remained, of course, untouched." 

[Since I enjoy disputations with Jim, I am sorry to say I agree completely. I first went to Mexico in the 40s, and the aftermath of the Revolution was still very visible. It has largely recovered. Because of my special interest are the Positivists, I recognize the contribution of the científicos of Porfirio Díaz in modernizing Mexico, and I regard the Mexican Revolution as a great tragedy. Not only is there no statue of Porfirio Díaz, there is none of Hernán Cortés, another non-person in Mexico. The annual ceremony honoring the Niños Héroes is an egregious example of historical dishonesty, used to foment anti-American feeling.

As for President Ernesto Zedillo, I repeat that I consider him the best president Mexico ever had, and the elections held yesterday are a tribute to his conduct of public affairs. With the election of Vicente Fox, the whole textbook picture should change. See posting on Students: Mexico.]

Ronald Hilton - 5/20/00