Napoleon once said, 'History is a myth agreed upon'

Umer Latif July 08, 2010
Napoleon may be or may not be right in his assessment of history, but the fact remains that history is one of the most essential pillars of the firm colossal building of knowledge.

The study of history is most inevitable to acquire membership of the intellectual community. But the dilemma is that, for each nation, the sole purpose of teaching history at schools is self-glorification and fulfillment of national vanity.

The acquisition of pure wealth of knowledge is not the purpose and requirement of this education. Rather main attention and emphasis is put on preparing extremely patriotic and nationalistic generations, with feelings of contempt and despise towards other nations. Thus, schools have become institutions where ‘national’ and ‘patriotic’ versions of history are presented.

Manipulation first

Throughout history, history has been manipulated and propagated to mould the minds of younger generation into stubborn adult patriots according to the demands of rigid national pride and religious norms. Our past leaders are depicted as impeccable beings, innocent of any vices and follies. We are not taught about the wrong-doings and fallacies of our forefathers, and consequently we are condemned to repeat them. For each war we fought, our opponents are the transgressors. For each nation we conquered, we are the redeemers and for each war we lost, we are the betrayed.

Such type of biased education taught in educational institutes may be termed as “Political Education”, as Bertrand Russell observed in “Principles of Social Reconstruction”:
…Education as a political institution endeavors to form habits and to circumscribe knowledge in such a way as to make one set of opinion inevitable.

One side of the coin, one facet of reality – is what we are acquainted with in text books, and as they say that incomplete truth is far more harmful than a complete lie. Our school text books tend to present an extremely manipulated and distorted version of historical events and personalities. This generally leads to narrowing down the intellectual horizons of students rather than blessing them with new dimensions, which should be the actual purpose of education, especially the education of history. Students after the school education remain either unaware of true history and events of utmost importance or remember them in a way even more worse.

Is history ever true?

History, no doubt, whether one accepts or not, is not an utterly pure collection of the incidents that actually occurred. The course of events as it passed, had been and has been tempered, while being scribbled, according to the will of those in power or the desires of those with knowledge. Parallel to its use as knowledge or social science, history has been used as a psychological weapon. But still, negating history as a whole on the sheer basis of mere doubt would be an example of terrifying scepticism.

Eluding the discussion whether history is wholly true or not, it is a source of guidance for individuals and nations alike, and equally for present and future. Tempering with this asset to instill few patriotic feelings in the immature minds would result in nothing fruitful, the consequences would be rather devastating. The obscure foundations of lie and cheat can never generate the pinnacles of glory. Distortion of harsh realities into sugar-coated fairy fantasies would bring about nothing other than intellectual havoc and mental discomfort.

History is one of the very basic cornerstones in the fulfilment of the intellectual community. It is reflection of the past and the indication of the future – A lesson to be remembered at every milestone to eternity. It should be given and treated with due respect if we expect her to honour us to be remembered in the future books of history.
Umer Latif A student of telecommunication engineering, a cinema fanatic and a blogger.
The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necassarily reflect the views and policies of the Express Tribune.


Salman Latif | 13 years ago | Reply Very well written!! History indeed has been used to manipulate the original course of past. Such aberrations have severe repurcussions as is experienced by us today where we see an entire nation in a state of delusion and denial, inevitably resulting in a refusal to accept own vices.
Syed Nadir El-Edroos | 13 years ago | Reply History is written by the victors. Agreed! However, we have shunned and ignored our history for long enough. Historiogprahy should be emphasizied rather than history, so that people appreciate multiple interpretations of recorded events,and then come to ones own conclusion.
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