Tinkering so subtle as to be beyond description

By Eric Stryson
Financial Times

Sir, It is refreshing to know that technology can save students from being completely hoodwinked by the deceptive authors of history. Roula Khalaf (“Tinkering with textbooks is futile in the age of Google ” October 8) raises numerous examples of recent attempts to rewrite history, from dictators in Thailand and Egypt distorting or erasing their opponents’ profiles to unrecorded massacres in China (Tiananmen 1989) and Syria (Hama 1982).

One feels unfulfilled, however, when she says that “ it is usually more subtly done in the west”. What does she mean, and why no specific examples? Is it so subtle as to be beyond description and just assumed, like perhaps the illusive weapons of mass destruction in Iraq 10 years ago and their connection with the horror we are now witnessing in their place? Will those subtleties make it into textbooks? What about a more nuanced perspective on Iran and the origins of its poisoned relationship with the west beginning with the 1953 toppling of the democratically elected Mohammad Mossadegh?

How many interventions in sovereign nations, military or otherwise, go unnoticed, unreported and undocumented in textbooks because they are too subtle, deemed too unimportant or simply drowned out by the constant noise? How much of this is actually just oversimplification and an unwillingness among the general public to question or challenge received wisdom? In this regard the pinnacle of subtlety must be the Native American and Aboriginal genocides, the impact upon our humanity of which has somehow become marginalised against the apparently more significant human rights abuses of today’s unsavory regimes.

Although they have access, the question is whether students will indeed do the requisite independent research to balance out their whitewashed textbooks. Let us hope that amid the ubiquitous technology they have both the curiosity and critical faculties to do so.