Thursday, October 06, 2005

Bill O'Reilly, history major
I have no explanation for this. Bill O'Reilly attended Chaminade High School, a private Catholic high school in New York. You know, one of those faith based schools that we are constantly told provides a much better education than do the evil unionized public schools (sarcasm aside, most people I know who attended Catholic schools did get very respectable educations). He was an honors student in history and he spent his junior year of college at the University of London. However ill-informed his opinions might be, he should have a fairly decent grasp of history. And yet...

On his Monday show, O'Reilly attempted to tell Gen. Wesley Clark that the American army always commits atrocities during wartime. As an example he claimed that the Malmedy massacre during World War Two was committed by the 82nd Airborne division. The Malmedy massacre was a battlefield execution of 150 American POWs by the German army during the Battle of the Bulge. I'll have more to say about this in another post.

Last night, he informed a caller that the enslavement of Africans was the equivalent of the British rule in Ireland. While a degree of self-pity for the suffering of his own nationality might be understandable, he then went on to describe the trans-Atlantic slave trade as a voluntary immigration by people looking for better economic opportunities.
That's the prevailing wisdom in a lot of the precincts, is that because blacks were in slavery in the United States, they were never able to develop an infrastructure of education and culture to compete with the white majority. That is the prevailing wisdom in lots and lots of places. Let me submit this to you, and then you can comment on it.

My people came from County Cavan in Ireland. All right? And the British Crown marched in there with their henchman, Oliver Cromwell, and they seized all of my ancestors' lands, everything. And they threw them into slavery, pretty much indentured servitude on the land. And then the land collapsed, all right? And everybody was starving in Ireland. They had to leave the country, just as Africans had to leave -- African-Americans had to leave Africa and come over on a boat and try to make in the New World with nothing. Nothing. And succeeded, succeeded. As did Italians, as did -- and I'll submit to you, African-Americans are succeeding as well. So all of these things can be overcome...

At the beginning of his comment, O'Reilly is heading for the Blacks as a criminal race narrative, that was so reprehensibly brought up by Bill Bennett the other day. He seems to realize where he's going and back off at the end when he says "African-Americans are succeeding as well." Once again, I'll have more to say about this in another post (hmmm, I'm committing myself to a lot today; I also wanted to insult some creationists this week). The beginning of the comment was about the causes of crime; in the end he seems to be talking about building a successful middle class. That can be argued as having a lot to do with crime rates, but he left out quite a few steps in that argument.

Meanwhile, O'Reilly the historian appears to have learned most of his trade from reading Harry Turtledove's alternate history novels. Look at that key sentence again: "African-Americans had to leave Africa and come over on a boat and try to make in the New World." They were hit by a potato blight and had to leave the land of their birth. Fortunately, there were some nice men down on the beach who offered to give them a ride to the land of opportunity. "Here," they said, "let me put this chain on your ankle so you won't fall overboard in rough seas. We can't be too careful, you know."

On second thought, I'm being unfair to Harry Turtledove. This sounds more like the neo-Confederate slavery apologists who have been trying to whitewash the image of the old South in school curricula. One of the battles has been over a booklet entitled Southern Slavery: As It Was, co-authored by an Idaho pastor Douglas Wilson and League of the South co-founder Steve Wilkins. The booklet holds a place in the neo-Confederate movement similar to Of Pandas and People for the Creationist movement.
Wilson’s and Wilkins’ booklet, published by Wilson’s "Canon Press" in Moscow [Idaho], argues that southern slavery was not only sanctioned by the Bible but, thanks to the patriarchal kindness of their wise evangelical masters, a positive, happy, and pleasant experience for the majority of southern blacks. Wilson and Wilkins are quite specific about the many benefits of slavery for African-Americans, and they conclude that southern slaves genuinely appreciated those benefits and supported the system that provided them. As such, they claim that "slavery produced in the South a genuine affection between the races that we believe we can say has never existed in any nation before the War [the Civil War] or since." (p. 38). Their praise of the institution is almost unbounded in places. “There has never been," they argue, "a multi-racial society that has existed with such mutual intimacy and harmony in the history of the world." (p. 24). They repeatedly deride the consensus view of slavery that has emerged over the last fifty years of academic scholarship as “abolitionist propaganda" and "civil rights propaganda."

I don't know what O'Reilly's opinion of the neo-Confederate movement is, but I find it very ugly to discover echoes of their revisionist history in his rants. Maybe O'Reilly should just stop talking about history for a while. That way he won't embarrass himself (as much) and he won't embarrass other history majors.

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