Mark and Mark: The Australian historian Geoff Blainey coined a nice phrase for the kind of history you’re talking about. He calls it “black-armband history.”
For the precise opposite approach to one’s national heritage, consider the Japanese. A couple of weeks ago Radio Derb poked fun at General Toshio Tamogami, who was head of the Japanese Air Force until he won a prize in an essay contest. Then the Prime Minister fired him. Topic of the essay: “True perspectives of modern and contemporary history.” Gen. Tamogami’s perspective was that Japan fought WW2 in self-defense after liberating Asia from Western imperialism, that Pearl Harbor was a dastardly trap the U.S.A. was suckered into by the Comintern, and that it is high time for Japan to “reclaim her glorious history.”
I got a furious email from a Japanese listener assuring me that the General had spoken nothing but the truth, and that he was fired not because anyone disagreed with him, but to appease Japan’s Asian trading partners. (That last is certainly plausible: Japan’s Prime Minister, Taro Aso — the guy who fired Gen. Tamogami — has in fact voiced sentiments similar to the General’s himself.
Last weekend I mentioned this to a friend who was raised in Japan and knows the place very well. He told me that my emailer spoke for most Japanese. He also told me about the Yushukan museum in Tokyo that offers a total whitewash of Japan’s history, complete with stirring music and readings of patriotic poems. The place is hugely popular, my friend says, and people come out with tears of patriotic sentiment streaming down their cheeks.
There’s got to be a happy medium.