If you like an interpretation of history, why not also find the flaws in it?

Posted on September 6, 2016 by


Lately, in the midst of the arguments being made about standing for the National Anthem, I’ve seen a fair number of folks attach themselves to an interpretation of some aspect of history and then attempt to defend that position (actually, it’s more a matter of them going on the offensive, using that interpretation as if it were a new and shiny sword). The problem is, while these interpretations seem to sing to these folks, they don’t take the time to more carefully examine that interpretation for vulnerable points. In all likelihood, they don’t know that’s what they should do before they step up to the soapbox and declare it as the end-all truth. In many ways, in their decision to embrace an interpretation… and buy in… it’s as if they were caught up in the sparkle of the “blade”.

This really isn’t anything new. It just seems to be more obvious and magnified in the era of social media.

Though I didn’t set off the other day looking for something to “wield” against this, I did encounter an article published here in the Shenandoah Valley, in 1825, which struck me as worth noting. The newspaper (Rockingham Weekly Register, of Harrisonburg) took a clip from the Alexandria Herald and republished it.


After reading the short clip, I wondered how some might take it. I mean… it was published in the Shenandoah Valley… part of the American South… where slavery flourished, right? How then could the publisher (Lawrence Wartman) stomach presenting such a piece to his readers? Certainly, it had to be offensive, no? It appears, at least to Wartman, it wasn’t offensive and he found some value in it, reinforcing, perhaps, something he believed… and perhaps what he thought many (though not all, I’m sure) of his readers felt.

Let me step back a minute and remind (for those who regularly read this blog), or inform (for those who might be new here) folks, that I’m very familiar with the people of the Valley and their complex story. Yet, to those who generalize about the South, dismissing any differences regions within the South actually had, how is this clip received today? Then again, could this clip (what it suggests, really) actually be received” at all? Or… is it more conveniently ignored as it challenges stereotypes that some prefer to embrace?

As I said before… when embracing an interpretation of some aspect of history (or the people who lived it), it’s best to take that interpretation to task. If one doesn’t, why not? Is it simply because they don’t want to challenge something they’ve found rings true with their own system of beliefs?

IF I can find the time, I might have something more to add, later this week, about all of fuss lately about the Francis Scott Key and the National Anthem… and the points about Key that many haven’t bothered to mention in their arguments against him. Anybody wish to venture a guess about aspects of Key, in relation to slavery, which are being ignored?

Whatever happened to that old phrase, “the more I learn, the more I realize how much I don’t know”? If the phrase was actually true (and it usually is), wouldn’t we actually be a bit more cautious about being so hasty in embracing an interpretation and running with it so quickly?