By David Glenn Cox
I’ll show you how times have changed. A California parent has his panties in a bunch about an ethnic studies class. He is not about to let his fourteen-year-old daughter go unembarrassed in her High school years. ‘It’s a long story, but I never dated in High School.” Daddy’s problem is that he doesn’t like the state teaching his daughter history he doesn’t approve of. Mainly Black studies and Black Lives Matter, which he considers to be a radical group. Wait until he reads about the Revolution or the Klan! I had to read the Communist Manifesto in High School, not because radical Leftists had infiltrated the board of education and were trying to indoctrinate me. It was quite the opposite, so certain my young and fertile mind would be dulled into submission by the text. The state was willing to take a chance that I would become a good God fearing American and might accidentally become educated.
But history is like a kaleidoscope, it looks one way until you turn it then it looks another. The early bird gets the worm, but what does that say about early worms? God parts the Red Sea, and some fish is late getting home. “Honey, I swear, someone just parted the sea, and I couldn’t get through for hours.” I was in an old cemetery once, the kind where they put your life story on your tombstone. This gentleman had his first wife buried on one side of him and his second wife in the other. His first wife was killed when his gun went off accidentally, while he was cleaning it. Marrying his second wife one year to the day later. See how subversive history is? I’m sure it was all quite innocent and all quite tragic. I’m as certain of that as I am the tombstone was erected by his first wife’s children for subversive reasons.
After the French Indian War, the colonies were free from the threat of foreign invasion. The crown had spent heavily to defend the colonies and thought it only fair they pay for their own defense. “Taxation without representation! You can’t tax me without my approval!” But we didn’t need your approval to send the bloody army, did we? We didn’t need your approval to defend you, but now that the check has come to the table, now you’re worried about your representation. A historical precedent still alive today, Americans love to go to war, but they just hate paying for it. The American Revolution, the original dine and dash. And if the French think we’re going to pay them back for their assistance!!!
But as we’ve all seen in “Pride and Prejudice” how the officers were invited to society parties. Social climbers looking to snag a rich young thing and build a country estate. Young Colonel Washington was just such a young man. At six foot two he cut a gracious silhouette, despite his humble origins. Telling stories of battles with native hostiles, George made himself one of the most eligible bachelors in Virginia. He passed on all the sweet young things and chose Martha. She was an older woman with two children and had largest holdings by any woman in Virginia. She wasn’t just you average run of the mill rich widow. She was the richest widow in the state. “Who wants to be a millionaire?” I’ve always thought the plantation shouldn’t be called mount Vernon, but mount Martha. I’m sure it was true love and if you don’t mind, I’ll just leave the room if you’re going to clean your gun.
Embarrassing history is erased or embellished; the charge of the Light Brigade was a mistake. The Battle of Bunker Hill was fought on Breed’s hill, and we lost. The battle of New Orleans was fought after the war was officially over. History is as flawed as we are. We want to dance around the ugly parts and pretend that the truth is not so, taking credit only for our victories. The blues legends that left Mississippi for Chicago and changed the world, did so because of grinding poverty in the Jim Crow South.
In my own native Montgomery, they stacked bails of cotton to block the main street from the approaching Yankees. And then as seen in Ringling Brothers Circus, some genius set it on fire. I don’t know how familiar you are with burning bails of cotton, but think three-hundred-pound wick with a lot a smoke. Then the winds began to increase as a storm front approached, sending airborne wads of burning cotton all across the town. The townspeople became so active in their fight against the airborne arson attack. That they gave up all concern about the Yankees and concentrated their efforts on the burning cotton.
Whether we choose to look at history or ignore it, it won’t go away. I can pretend American history is an episode of Bonanza and Pa is always right about those things. That doesn’t make it so; it only makes me so. Do you know why those pioneers climbed into their happy little wagons and headed out across the sunshine prairies? Willing to risk life and limb for a dream of which they had little understanding. Crammed into filthy rat-infested slums of New York, the immigrants would gladly spend their last nickel and risk their lives against hostile natives. Just trying to get the fuck out of there. Many found themselves out of the frying pan and into the fire with nothing left to lose.
Eugene Debs said that “Discontent is the mainspring of civilization.” We settled the West because back home was worse. Millions of people whose lives sucked so badly they said, “Fuck it, I’ll go to California and pan for gold before I’ll put up with all this shit.” One in four Cowboys on the prairie was an African American, but you wouldn’t know it by looking at the Ponderosa. We like our history the way like we like our coffee, with lots of cream and three sugars. Not to enhance the flavor but only to hide inside from the darkness of the truth.
“This is our country here as far as you can see no matter which way you walk or no matter what spot of it you stand on. And when you crossed her as many times as I have you will see as many ugly things about her as pretty things. You will hear whole gangs of travelers and settlers arguing about her. What she is, how she come to be, what you are supposed to do here. And you will hear some argue at you. That she is so beautiful you are only supposed to spend your life just feeling her pretty parts, sucking in her sweetest breezes and tasing her fairest odors, looking at her brightest colored scenes. And I would say that gang has a wrong notion. And there are some bunches that tell you she is all ugly, and all dirty, that there is nothing good about her, nothing free, nothing clean, that she is all slums, shacks, rot, filth, bad odors, loud words of bitter flavors. Well, this herd is big and I heard them often and I heard them loud, but I come to think that they too was just as wrong as the first outfit. Because I seen the pretty and I seen the ugly and it was because knew the pretty part that I wanted to change the ugly part. Because I hated the dirty part that I knew how to feel love for the cleaner part.” – Woody Guthrie