We all know controversy. It's when we can't agree on something that happened and argue about it. Most people argue about things that happened that cannot be known for sure. Controversy is defined as "a disputation concerning a matter of opinion." This means that no real answer can be found, and people argue what they believe to be true. It's like arguing that your God is the real God because you believe it. There's no way to establish that as fact; even NDEs can be argued as being nothing more than dreams based on a person's beliefs. Sirhan's denied parole again today for killing Bobby Kennedy indicates people don't want to visit that controversial proof that Sirhan could NOT have fired the killing shot, because, boy, what a kettle of worms that would open.
In "controversial history," as I will define it here, there is a way to use attitude of the people who made history to find out why things happened the way they did. One way, of course, is by sharing both sides to every story and staying completely objective, as I tried to do in "Civil War & Bloody Peace," just following the orders and showing responses formed by attitudes. History should never be just about what happened. Dates, names and places. These have been forced on kids to memorize, without an understanding of the event itself.
The problem with American history, in general, is that historical events contain so much hidden attitude. We don't want to think that our motives were ever anything but noble, so we don't get into too much depth over why events happened. We know Custer died at the Little Bighorn, and as a result, the Indians lost the Black Hills. But why?
That's the question we have to keep asking until we get at the truth. Many historians believe they'll never know the real reason Custer died at the Little Bighorn, and they don't want to believe what Grant had to do to get the Black Hills. Questions remain because we cannot see the whole picture without attitude. It's controversial, because it contains information that people really don't want to know. Attitude that creates the why is what people seem to believe we can't possibly ever know, anyway.
In a way, we can't. I can't say for a fact that Lincoln was so involved in the Civil War because he felt guilty for secession coming over his election. There will never be a fact in that attitude unless we find it in his handwriting somewhere. But when we infer this attitude based on the fact that secession happened because he was elected -- and we apply logic, as in, wouldn't you feel guilty? -- then we can make sense of a lot of his decisions over those four years.
Making sense of history is what helps us to understand why something happened. Finding out why something happened is the only way we can learn from history. We always hear this; people who don't learn from history are doomed to repeat it. Well, how do we learn if we don't explore reasons why something happened? And how do we learn the why if we don't look for attitude?
So controversial history is history using attitude that brings new light to the pieces of fact that don't otherwise fit together. Things that make complete sense because of what people who were involved in an event stood to gain from the event going a certain way is what made President Grant the instigator of the Little Bighorn, as you'll see following those events in "Civil War & Bloody Peace." Making an event make sense by looking at the attitudes of the participants also clarifies so much of what happened in the 1960s, as you'll see in "From Lincoln to Trump," and why things happened as they did after that. Think we had a handle on Civil Rights? Then how did we get a resurgence of white supremacism under Trump? How do we now see minority voting rights being threatened? Why are the minorities in this country the most at risk in the pandemic? If A + B doesn't equal C, then the event is not making sense. We cannot know the attitudes of people, but we can infer them by their actions, by what they deemed important.
Controversial history is also learning how the U.S. as a country, with many leaders and an over-arching guiding principle of free market, capitalism and Democracy, has made so many mistakes and bad decisions in the name of resource capital. Let's call it Uncle Sam, so we're not picking on a political party here. Now Uncle Sam seems like a shining example of freedom to the world, and people come here to escape oppression. All well and good. But we have history that we have not learned from because we don't teach it, we hide it from view; Uncle Sam doesn't like to tell people why he does things the way he does. Yes, the American dream is to get rich. Anybody can, right? That is the U.S. myth that so many buy into. Doctors come here from socialist countries because they can make more here. All my doctors last year had foreign accents. All of them.
Nearly since the creation of the U.S., big business has been in control, and rich people are more ordained than made. There are examples, of course, of people rising from poverty due to innovation, just as there are those who were born rich and squandered it all. John Mackay is one; due to the Comstock in Virginia City, he became one of the ten richest in the world in the 1800s, but a rare man who retained that goodness to him. There are those who are rich enough to buy a political seat only to be on the inside where they can get richer. And those resources? Uncle Sam decides that if he can control another country through a petty dictator, our country will thrive. Who cares about them, right? Our cries of freedom become tarnished. The labor (and that's the rest of us) are kept as little more than slaves to the system.
Uncle Sam, you see, was the last industrial nation to free its slaves; even Russia freed its serfs before slavery ended here. That's a fact that you won't hear in history class. And the attitude? Racism is caused by the dominant group (whites) not wanting competition and liking cheap labor. Slavery now is little more than being sucked into a system where you can never get ahead, because you're too busy struggling to make ends meet, and being kept there by a system regulated by business. And we have immigration problems because business likes cheap labor. Except that lately, politicians don't like how immigrants vote, so obstruct immigration, leading to a lack of labor; businesses can't find people, because they don't want more voters voting Democrat. The system has opened up its internal flaws, and we all suffer.
Uncle Sam, however, will continue to insist that anyone can get rich. We've all heard those stories of people who have invented the next great thing. Or won the lottery. It's like self-publishing a novel that actually turns out to be a million seller. Or trying to become the next great screenwriter, opposing a closed system.
All of this that I've just discussed is controversial history. There is no way to prove that we are all basically being held back by Uncle Sam's capitalism, right? This has been an on-going debate for a long time, and there are no real answers to offer. Free guns for all, that's freedom, isn't it? People will point to the socialist system and say it's no better. Where do all the bright minds and great inventions seem to emerge? The U.S., right? Although in today's world, it feels the U.S. is being surpassed in many ways by China, and being thwarted on the international front by Russia.
What I offer, as a historian, are answers to controversial historical events that have been puzzling historians since they happened. Answers will emerge by the application of another piece of information pertaining to the event that has been either unknown or that Uncle Sam does not want you to know. That, too, is attitude.
And while you might say that the addition of this information doesn't make this new "why" a fact, I think you'll see that it becomes hard to look at that event any other way anymore. Because fact with attitude makes sense.