Rewriting History

Rewriting History

You can call me idealistic, but I believe truth is invulnerable and invincible. If I didn’t believe in truth, I wouldn’t put it down on paper. I wouldn’t think it mattered enough to document it.

A Greater Invention

Tomas Garrigue Masaryk, president of the First Czechoslovak Republic, created a motto for his country that endures to this day: Truth Prevails. The fact that this dictum works on so many levels—personal, cultural, and political—demonstrates its brilliance.

In 1929, Masaryk predicted the advent of television. In a short film, he says, “If I observe the inventiveness of our modern scientists, I sometimes fancy a much greater invention: to see and hear in the distance without any wire.… Every man, then, would be forced to be honest, and there would be no secret plotting anymore of all the wickedness. Wonderful, no?” If we could see with our own eyes into the “jungles of our human society,” he put forth, no one would be able to hide nefarious acts or intentions. With uncontestable evidence, he hoped wrongdoing would end and truth would prevail.

Denying Reality

Unfortunately, media has come to function very differently. People witness events with their own eyes and still deny their reality. Masaryk didn’t realize the extent to which corruption, prejudice, and hate motivate individuals and institutions to suppress and revise the truth. Wickedness exists openly. Undeniable evidence is denied.

We see this in acquittals of police officers who murder people of color. We see this in the atrocities inflicted on migrants. The whole world may be watching, but the wickedness continues.

The New Colossus

Jewish-American poet Emma Lazarus’ poem “The New Colossus” is cast in bronze and displayed on the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty. Recently, Ken Cuccinelli, director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, attempted to rewrite it.

Lazarus wrote: “Give me your tired, your poor / Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, / The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. / Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, / I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

Cuccinelli imposed the lines, “Give me your tired and your poor who can stand on their own two feet and who will not become a public charge.” Later, he added the racist statement that Lazarus’ poem referred only to “people coming from Europe.”

Did Emma Lazarus know the power her words would have over a century later? Her declaration is so threatening that a high-ranking politician felt compelled to rewrite it to justify evil immigration policies. Oppressors know her poem established a standard of justice and humanity. Even though that standard has been violated in so many ways now and in the past, it measures how far we’ve strayed and holds us accountable, at least theoretically.

Nurturing Systemic Injustice

Systemic prejudice erupts in episodes of victimization—microaggressions, slurs, and hateful symbols. It erupts in acts of exclusion, intimidation, incarceration, violence, and murder. These acts further traumatize the vulnerable and thus strengthen the structural inequities and injustices that led to them.

Institutions are inherently resistant to change. They may attempt to bury or rewrite the truth. They blame and attack the victim, pressuring them to just get over it. They accuse victims of being overly emotional, inaccurate, malicious, uncivilized, violent, or liars. Institutions may perform efforts toward justice and ultimately kill them with inaction or through the drawn-out processes of bureaucracy.

Denying reality, institutions compound the trauma and shore up the status quo. And thus, they nurture systemic prejudice, injustice, and inequity.

Truth Prevails

Leaders and institutions may try to add to, subtract from, or modify truth, but they can never revise someone’s existence. People are experts and authorities on their own experience. Those experiences are real.

Human realities are cast in bronze. They are carved in stone. They tower over society’s institutions. They overshadow the narcissism, mean-spiritedness, cruelty, and inhumanity of any individual human being.

Why? Because truth is a colossus. And Truth Prevails.

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My Great Uncle Stefan
My Great Uncle Stefan