The First Fiction Lesson
The first lesson in fictional story devices is discovered when a student opens her first history textbook. Only they aren’t told the history inside is fiction. Students are taught this is what happened. Accept it. Memorize it. Take it to heart. What other events happened, or didn’t happen, the motives of rulers and generals, alliances, and failed alliances, and shifting power structures aren’t usually part of the package.
Thai children’s learn about sacking of Ayutthaya in 1767 as if that is the only event worthy of mention, ensuring that children associate Burma as an brutal aggressor with Thailand as a victim. Laotian school history books paint Thais as villains. And so it goes.
To untangle the web of power, influence and brute force is a challenge for any historian. The historical record is often incomplete and biased. The more distant the events, the more likely the conclusions are the product of myth, wishful thinking, and self-serving political forces.
Thailand isn’t the only offender in the manufacture of history to suit its own self-interest. Japan still can’t come to grips with World War II, the Chinese history on Tibet has the earmarks of heavy-handed editing, the Americans are silent on the extermination of native Indian tribes, and these few examples don’t begin to describe the often distorted and unreliable narratives that children are taught in their local schools.
The first lies children learn are from the school history books. Once the first lies are accepted as gospel the ability to play on preconceived ideas becomes easy. The students who are now adults have grown fat and stupid on a steady diet of falsehoods. They are softened up for a lifetime of official and commercial story telling that blurs reality and illusion and that suits perfectly the interest of those seeking power and profit. Challenge the conventional historical received wisdom is dangerous. People find comfort in the official spin; they become uneasy when they learn the truth is vastly more complicated and what is extracted must be qualified.
The hometown team may also be implicated by uncomfortable historical events. Silence is another enemy of truth. Those who break that silence are rarely thanked; more likely they are hounded, persecuted and marginalized. There has always been a lot at stake when it comes to writing history. That why who writes the history school books and what the choose to write about and what they choose to ignore has huge implications for social and political development.