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Our world is based on many falsehoods, lies, and inequities. As the saying goes, the victorious write history. It is rarely agnostic for the truth. Yet it would be a grave mistake to cast aside all that came before us because it contradicts our current level of civilization and socialization.
But this won’t prevent those who prefer to whitewash (a term they would likely object to) history by changing the reality of what happened and substituting a “kinder and gentler” version.
A recent piece from Fox News caught my eye about how the publisher of Ernest Hemingway’s works is rewriting certain scenes within his books and a University in Scotland was putting “Content warnings” because of “graphic fishing scenes” and Hemingway’s “language and attitudes.”
“This novel is explored as part of a module which deals with scenes of gory violence in a number of epic texts. We believe that content warnings enable students to make informed choices. We started providing them at the request of several of our students who told us they would appreciate being informed about these topics in advance.”
University of Scotland
Publisher Penguin Random House recently added trigger warnings to “The Old Man and the Sea,” as well as other Hemingway works over concerns about the author’s “language” and “attitudes.” Turns out similar actions are in place concerning the works of Roald Dahl, regarding “Fat” characters being removed and adding more “inclusive” gender terms.
Hemingway had it right when he said,
“Critics are men who watch a battle for a high place, then come down and shoot the survivors.”
Or, to put it more correctly,
“Critics are people who watch a (trigger warning violence and firearm reference) battle from a position physically higher but in no way superior to other places, then come down and shoot the survivors. (Please contact your nearest mental health clinic if these words trouble you or in any way distress you or cause anxiety.)
What’s next, history majors opting out of reading and studying books about the Holocaust because it contains offensive language and depictions of violent actions by humans against other humans?
The course of study for a major in Modern European History, stripped of all the bloodshed, torture, rape, pillaging, burning, and death would comprise two paragraphs describing the discovery of winemaking (with the appropriate trigger warnings about alcohol abuse etc. etc.)
If we as an intelligent entity cannot read material written by such brilliant writers as Hemingway, Dahl, or others by putting it into the proper context of when it was written without curling up into the fetal position and weeping in sorrow, we are doomed.
“We hold these truths to be self-evident…”
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
These words were written by white men, many of whom were slave holders, who saw Native Americans and African people, both slave and free, as inferior to the white race.
Do we need to change the words to something more in keeping with our current understanding as a way of improving the spirit of their meaning? I think not.
Jefferson, Washington, Adams were wrong to allow slavery to persist. Abraham Lincoln himself, the Great Emancipator, said this,
“I am not, nor ever have been, in favor of bringing about in any way the social and political equality of the white and black races … I am not nor ever have been in favor of making voters or jurors of Negroes, nor of qualifying them to hold office, nor to intermarry with white people; and I will say in addition to this that there is a physical difference between the white and black races, which I believe will forever forbid the two races from living together on terms of social and political equality. And inasmuch as they cannot so live, while they do remain together, there must be a position of superior and inferior, and I as much as any other man am in favor of having the superior position assigned to the white race.”
Yet each of these men, living when women could never have participated in the crafting of the new constitution or taking part in government, set the stage for progress.
And then there is this gem. Headline from Waukesha, Wisconsin. (https://www.foxnews.com/media/teacher-fired-wanting-students-sing-miley-cyrus-dolly-parton-song-rainbowland)
Teacher fired after wanting students to sing Miley Cyrus, Dolly Parton song ‘Rainbowland’
Some of the lyrics that concerned the school board and administration are these:
Livin' in a rainbowland
Where you and I go hand in hand
Oh, I’d be lyin' (I'd be lyin')
If I said this was fine (This is not fine)
All the hurt and the hate going on here (It needs to stop here)
We are rainbows, me and you
Every color, every hue
Let’s shine through (Through)
Together, we can
Start livin' in a rainbowland
Well, I can certainly see where we wouldn’t want first-graders singing such words. After all, racism and oppression are long gone from this country.
I mean the last arrest for, let’s say, actions by the KKK was way back on July 13, 2023, after Klan members posted racist and threatening messages on several black churches in Tennessee (where they still celebrate the birthday of Nathan Bedford Forrest, a millionaire slave trader, Confederate general, mass murderer of over 200 Black Union POWs, and the first grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan. They even have a state holiday for it.)
So obviously, there is no need to indoctrinate these first graders with concepts of inclusivity and tolerance. Why not let them sing “Oh, way down south in the land of cotton” like the good ole’ days?
But this teacher took it too far, according to the administration.
They were so butt hurt (I would have used another term but they might consider it offensive and triggering) they fired the teacher, Melissa Tempel. Firing a teacher capable of getting first graders to rehearse, let alone perform, would seem to be a contradiction. Such talent is a testament to her extraordinary capabilities.
And they fired her for teaching students a song about inclusivity. Well no wonder. We can’t have that running rampant in school systems. What’s next, desegregation? Oops, I was in a bit of a time warp there. Kind of like Rep. Eli Crane (R) of Arizona when he said an amendment he added to the defense spending bill had nothing to do with “colored people.” Sure it didn’t, genius.
The superintendent for the district was quoted in the article.
Superintendent James Sebert told WISN 12 that her social media posts “brought negative attention to the school district. Ms. Tempel deliberately brought negative attention to the school district because she disagreed with the decision as opposed to following protocol and procedure and I believe that behavior is intolerable,” he said.
He’s right about one thing. There was negative attention brough to the school district, but not by the teacher they fired. It was by the idiocy of the school board and administration.
So we have two contradictory examples of suppression. One would try to change the past by altering the writing of some of the greatest writers of all time. One wants to change the past by making believe it never was as bad and doesn’t have any impact today.
Both are misguided and disingenuous.
There once existed women and suppressed people long gone from this world who would have equaled Shakespeare, Aristotle, Plato, Einstein, Newton, Cervantes, or other giants of science, philosophy, or literature but were denied the opportunity by virtue of gender, ethnicity, or religion.
It is a tragic reality that the Holocaust and other genocidal events, as well as the brutish realities of history, killed thousands of geniuses and deprived the world of their potential.
We cannot correct the wrongs of the past by trying to mask or ignore them. We correct the wrongs of the past by realizing they temper many of the works we read, the foundations upon which we built our constitution, and the manner in which we interact with those who differ from us and keep it in proper perspective.
You cannot rewrite the Old Man and the Sea without losing the heart of the story. Perhaps if we focused on teaching ourselves to deal with reality, rather than trying to mask it, we’d all be better off. Ernest Hemingway may have been a bad person in his personal life, but his writing transcends the realities of his nature by showing the world the power of words to convey a story.
Every talented writer, musician, scientist, artist, or poet was still human, with flaws and false beliefs. To mask their flaws by changing their words accomplishes the exact opposite of what it is trying to do. It conceals the fact that human history is rife with brutality, discrimination, and false concepts, yet, from this, arose the ideas of inclusivity and tolerance.
We wouldn’t be where we are today if people like Hemingway, Shakespeare, or Mozart were suppressed because they held certain misconceptions about their fellow humans. We are who we are today because, incrementally and sometimes over frustratingly prolonged periods, we learned to change those misconceptions.
Instead of changing the words within For Whom the Bell Tolls or firing teachers who try to convey a lesson of inclusivity, we should take the moment to put things in context, either historical or current, and learn what we can gain from such considerations.
JEBWizard Publishing (www.jebwizardpublishing.com) is a hybrid publishing company focusing on new and emerging authors. We offer a full range of customized publishing services. Everyone has a story to tell, let us help you share it with the world. We turn publishing dreams into a reality. For more information and manuscript submission guidelines contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or 401-533-3988.