Culture

Liberals Rewrite History, Make a Few Mistakes

Statue of Ghandi in Parliament Square, London. (Niklas Halle’n/AFP/Getty)
Whom would our undergrads revile if they knew a bit more history?

A fetish for de-honoring objectionable historical figures is sweeping American college campuses. Targets range from unrepentant bastards like Jeffery Amherst to imperfect great men like Thomas Jefferson. I wonder if America’s undergrads realize that imperfection, and bastardy, are surprisingly widespread conditions:

“The white race of South Africa should be the predominating race,” said Mahatma Gandhi. He also said, of himself and his followers, “We believe as much in the purity of race as” white South Africans. He called black South Africans “kaffirs,” which is South Africa’s equivalent of “niggers,” and objected to blacks living among South African Indians: “About this mixing of the Kaffirs with the Indians, I must confess I feel strongly. I think it is very unfair to the Indian population.” He wrote that “Kaffirs are as a rule uncivilized. . . . The reader can easily imagine the plight of the poor Indian thrown into such company!”

There are dozens of such Gandhi quotes. Students at Oxford tried to tear down a statue of Cecil Rhodes — who endowed Oxford’s Rhodes Scholarship — after they found out he held comparable, Gandhi-esque views. Should we expect a “Gandhi Must Fall” campaign targeting the innumerable Gandhi statues worldwide? Like the one standing in London, in front of the Houses of Parliament?

RELATED: Living with History: The ‘Rhodes Must Fall’ Movement and the Questions It Evokes

“The black is indolent and a dreamer; spending his meager wage on frivolity or drink,” said Che Guevara. He added that members of the “African race” had “maintained their racial purity thanks to their lack of an affinity with bathing.” After the Cuban Communists took over, Che promised that they were “going to do for blacks exactly what blacks did for the revolution. By which I mean: nothing.”

(Of course, it bears mentioning that Che also tortured and murdered many, many people. But to a young intellectual, thinking wrong is much worse than doing wrong.)

#share#“I shall never fight in the armed forces with a negro by my side. . . . Rather I should die a thousand times, and see Old Glory trampled in the dirt never to rise again, than to see this beloved land of ours become degraded by mongrels, a throwback to the blackest specimen from the wilds,” wrote Robert Byrd, who — as you recall — was a Democratic senator in office from 1959 until 2010, the Senate’s president pro tempore until the Republican landslide in 2010, and the leader of the Senate Democratic Caucus from 1977 to 1989. He was also an ex–Exalted Cyclops of the KKK. What to do with the 50 or so schools, buildings, bridges, and highways named for Byrd?

RELATED: The Liberal Fantasy of Cultural Appropriation

The philosopher and political theorist Ferdinand Lassalle was described as a “Jewish Nigger” by Karl Marx, who added, “It is now completely clear to me that he, as is proven by his cranial formation and his hair, descended from the Negroes of Egypt, assuming that his mother or grandmother had not interbred with a nigger. . . . The obtrusiveness of the fellow is also nigger-like.” Jews were of particular interest to Marx, who accused them of being anti-Communists “at the head of the counterrevolution.” “It is only because the Jews are so strong that it is timely and expedient to expose and stigmatize” them, said Marx, evidently living in the conspiracy theorists’ version of 1850s Europe.

He was quite candid about his plan for Communist revolutionary violence, saying of himself and Engels, “We have no compassion . . . we shall not make excuses for the terror.” He was likewise candid in his support for slavery, particularly what he called “the good side of slavery”: “Slavery is as much the pivot upon which our present-day industrialism turns as are machinery, credit, etc. Slavery is therefore an economic category of paramount importance.”

#related#Will American college kids protest The Communist Manifesto being — according to Market Watch — the most-assigned economics text in the country?

And do those students realize that the only man as universally well-regarded as Gandhi — Nelson Mandela — said, during a visit to Israel, “I cannot conceive of Israel withdrawing [from the West Bank and Gaza] if Arab states do not recognize Israel within secure borders”? Of course, that’s an opinion that carries the day on NRO, but what would all those undergrads chanting Viva, Viva Palestina! say about Madiba supporting Israeli “apartheid”?

I won’t presume to tell our undergrads whom they should and shouldn’t revile. But I suggest they wait to rewrite history until they know something about it.

Josh Gelernter — Josh Gelernter is a weekly columnist for NRO, and a frequent contributor to The Weekly Standard.

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