Tin Foiling History: A Brief, Cautionary Comment on the Consequences Rendered by Tinkering with the History of the 20th and 21st Centuries.

Below is an essay I had recently penned for a college course. Thought I’d put it up here because, well, why not.


“What do you mean the Holocaust is real, Mr. Jeremy? I thought that it was just an inside meme joke,” interjected Allen, a suburban British teenager in English Literature. His query had been brought up in a discussion on Anne Frank’s seemingly incredulous The Diary of a Young Girl. Jeremy Bradshaw, Allen’s middle-aged teacher, was quite vexed indeed. He began to ponder the situation’s horrific aftermath. Children today are increasingly becoming ignorant of major catastrophic events caused by humanity, or lack thereof, due to an inadequacy of a proper education system and a growing number of vocal deniers. If base ignorance was enough to deter people from believing that an event occurred, then what would be the case if history was actively tampered with? After due research and contemplation, it can be moderately that the general response towards tinkering with history has resulted in a deep sense of distrust towards not only other nations but home ground as well. Because of this root chariness, general demoralization of the loss of life, and active pushing of alternative narratives with the dearth and modification of information, it can be strongly opined that the state can take advantage of these factors to gain control of the freedoms of people and social values.

A relatively recent poll conducted by CNN revealed that about one European in twenty, in the countries surveyed, had never heard of the Holocaust (Greene “A Shadow Over Europe”). This daunting revelation has been mirrored by other surveys as well such as the one conducted by The New York Times, published in April of 2018, which claims that 41 percent of Americans, and 66 percent of millennials, cannot say what Auschwitz was (Astor “Holocaust Is Fading”). To clarify, the Holocaust was not kept hidden. The Holocaust is a humongous war crime that should never be denied. The same can be said of the literally turbulent September 11 quadra-attack on the World Trade Center buildings, in New York, and the Pentagon in Washington, DC. The 9/11 terrorist extravaganza is something that Americans will never rid their books and minds of. If one were put on their cynical spectacles, they would even agree that, in hindsight, these events brought many political and socio-economic reforms and advantages to the people they concern, but that discussion is not for this paper (Caryl “10 Winners And 10 Losers Of 9/11.”). To continue, these events were orchestrated by fiends from home on non-home soil. That is to say that the nation under attack was to gain nothing from hiding the atrocities that had occurred. The country’s image had surely been tarnished but it is agreed upon that reconstruction is much more commendable, and worthwhile, than wallowing in shame and fear. A prime example of such would be Japan after it had faced the double blow to its infrastructure by the metallic father-son duo, Fat Man and Little Boy.

Now consider the other cases where terrifying tactics were used by a nation on its own citizens. Shame of the highest order is attributed to these. Nations have no benefits to reap from shooting themselves in the foot. These often transpire as a result of rising tensions due to poor governmental performance and drastic abuse of power. Rewriting the annals of history to maintain hold of power and a prim image is usually what is done as a result. Such an attempt is quite apparent with the ongoing Chinese effort to cover up the Tiananmen Square massacre that took place on the 4th of June 1989. A state-controlled Chinese newspaper has said that claims that 10,000 people died during the Tiananmen Square massacre are ‘impossible’ by reporting that only up to 300 protesters may have been killed (Tiananmen Death Toll Is ’Hype’). The contrasting claims are quite clear and even more apparent when one considers how far the Chinese government is willing to go in censoring the event from its own people: low-wage workers are made to scour the internet for any references to not only the massacre itself, but the period of occurrence as well (Yuan “Learning China’s Forbidden History”). Not only this but cases in which a country unleashes havoc in another country also has serious repercussions back home. The My Lai massacre, which took place on the 16th of March 1968, saw US troops unleashing heavy gunfire in a village near the South China Sea resulting in the deaths of 500 Vietnamese (Allison). There is also the almost equally disgusting ‘Rape of Nanking’ in which Japanese soldiers went door to door brutally raping and murdering an estimated 250,000 soldiers and civilians in the Chinese city of Nanking (or Nanjing) for six weeks in 1937-38 (Editors “Nanking Massacre.”). Americans, who are aware of the My Lai incident, vehemently condemn the US military’s censorship efforts. Not only the Chinese but the Koreans as well seethe with unsurmountable hatred when Japan is mentioned as Japan has never actually apologized or acknowledged the incident. Japanese textbooks detail the massacre but with undertones isolating the massacre from the country and its denizens (Barnard).

This leads to the discussion of war crimes (and crimes after the end of war), and the hate that they receive. Most everyone around the globe with an intact moral compass will agree that the Holocaust was large scale crime of war against the Jews. To the east, as mentioned before, there are the Koreans spewing hate about the Japanese, the Taiwanese hurling insults at the Chinese, the Filipinos considering almost every other Eastern Asian country as a potential enslaver, et cetera. One could safely say that the entire region is locked in a conference room left to deal about a round-table on who should apologize to whom first over whichever atrocity. Using a local example to emphasize, a recall to the maddening violence perpetuated by the Indo-Pak partition of 1947 should be brought forth. An estimated 14 million people from all walks of life are thought to have fled from the then newly formed Pakistan to India, and vice versa. Of these, a highly debated 2 hundred thousand to 2 million are expected to have been the victims of chaotic looting, brutal rape, and frenzied murder (Doshi and Mehdi “70 years later”). Until recently, neither side was willing to accept that the violence had occurred – let alone actually take responsibility for it. Even now, South Asian citizens belonging to all sects and regions are still unwilling to gaze into the abyss that is the archive of Indo-Pak mass-migration violence.

With this, one can easily deduce why the Geneva Conventions exist. They are a series of treaties on the treatment of civilians, prisoners of war, and soldiers who are incapable of participating in combat. The first Convention produced a treaty designed to protect injured and unhealthy soldiers during wartime. The Swiss Government agreed to hold the Conventions in Geneva. After the end of the second World Ward, in 1949, two new Conventions were added, and all four were ratified by several countries. These along with two additional Protocols (1977) are in force today (LII Staff “Geneva Conventions.”). But despite 196 countries agreeing to adhere to the Geneva Conventions, current battle zones Afghanistan, Syria, and Palestine (or, more correctly, Israel) see almost daily disrespect of the Conventions (Lancet 1510). Now with the advancement of technology, war is becoming increasingly impersonal and condensed. Morals have taken a backseat and results are at the front. The usage of drone strikes is an obvious example: The London-based Bureau of Investigative Journalism has estimated that between 598 and 1,252 civilians have been killed by drone strikes in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia since 2004 (Drone Strikes in Pakistan). These numbers may seem insignificant considering the ‘results’ but, in the grand scheme of things, the practice has paved the way for the allowance of systematic termination of not only suspected terrorists but civilians as well. Civilians whose actions may not agree with the nation calling the strike. This can be seen by events such as the strike on a Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) hospital in Kunduz, northern Afghanistan, on the 3rd of October 2015 (Lancet 1510). Follow this up with American President Donald Trump’s signing of an executive order, on the 6th of March 2019, that cancelled the requirement that intelligence officials publicize the number of civilians exterminated in drone strikes and other attacks on terrorist targets outside of war zones (Talev “Trump Cancels U.S. Report”). With this, it is common sense to conclude that facts have been played with and a narrative has been pushed.

It may seem as if a slippery slope is being brought into view here, but it should be considered a folly to not consider the information at hand. The situation is not as convoluted as one may suppose at first and it can even be picked up by careful eyes. Tanner Higgin’s critical analysis of the second iteration, Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty, of the hit video game series Metal Gear Solid, brings forth the same comments as many other scholars who have undertaken the same task: The control of narrative leads to the control of men and identity (Huntemann, et al. 252-271). By using a pivotal character, director-cum-writer Hideo Kojima warned us of the age of information and behavioral manipulation almost two decades ago:

You’re being silly! What we propose to do is not control content but to create context. The untested truths spun by different interests continue to churn and accumulate in the sandbox of political correctness and value systems. Everyone withdraws into their own small gated community, afraid of a larger forum. They stay inside their little ponds, leaking whatever “truth” suits them into the growing cesspool of society at large. The different cardinal truths neither clash nor mesh. No one is invalidated, but nobody is right. (Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty)

Such ‘dialogue’ is commonplace in cyberpunk fiction and university level sociology books. Kojima’s video game made accessible to millions a concept that has been in discussion in academia since the early 1980s. Unfortunately, the common man is not lucky enough to stumble across and ponder the issue with such media, or even with a modern graduate study. The tinkering of history in order to silence or control is somewhat clear cut but nonetheless still a terrifying enough concept to deter most from considering the consequences. None could have envisioned the current geo-political climate when the idea was first brought forth and, unsurprisingly, quite a lot of people still deny it being as dangerous as analysts claim. The ‘Democratic Republic’ of North Korea is a textbook example.

North Korea is an eccentric nation in which the military dictatorship functions so stringently and strangely that some may be inclined to consider it may as well have been transported to our world from an Isaac Asimov science-fiction piece. Jieun Baek, Ph.D. candidate in Public Policy at the University of Oxford and research fellow at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard University, notes in her revealing essay, The Opening of the North Korean Mind: Pyongyang Versus the Digital Underground, that despite its title of ‘The Hermit Kingdom’, North Korea has seen drastic increase in the amount of outside information being smuggled into the country regardless of the great risks citizens dismiss in other to learn about the world, and their own caged situation (Baek 106). It is daunting to think that such a thing is occurring in a time when knowledge is available to almost everyone at their fingertips, but reality has nasty surprises for both the ignorant and the gullible. She sums up the situation succinctly near the end of the essay: “As North Koreans have developed a more accurate perception of their country and the world, many have begun to feel a profound sense of betrayal. That feeling, in turn, has fed a sense of distrust—one that could prove corrosive in a totalitarian state built around a fanatical cult of personality” (Baek 112).

It can be argued that censoring certain instances of history may prove to be beneficial in the long run, but it has no logical basis in both morality and historiography. While some people do believe in fabricating history for the ‘greater good’, this ‘greater good’ often ends up being a shallow misrepresentation of the infractions rendered by cultures. Yes, the censorship may prove cathartic at first but, as time goes on, the people become complacent. Slowly venturing closer to the edge of a violent loop. A loop commonly known as ‘repeating history’.



Works Cited

“Drone Strikes in Pakistan.” The Bureau of Investigative Journalism, 2019, http://www.thebureauinvestigates.com/projects/drone-war/charts?show_casualties=1&show_injuries=1&show_strikes=1&location=pakistan&from=2004-1-1&to=now. Accessed 8 April 2019.

“Tiananmen Death Toll Is ’Hype’, Says Beijing.” Daily Telegraph (London, England), 2017. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=edsgbe&AN=edsgcl.520319601&site=eds-live.

Allison, William Thomas. My Lai : An American Atrocity in the Vietnam War. Baltimore : Johns Hopkins University Press, 2012., 2012. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=cat01977a&AN=LUMS.000194760&site=eds-live.

Astor, Maggie. “Holocaust Is Fading From Memory, Survey Finds.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 12 Apr. 2018, http://www.nytimes.com/2018/04/12/us/holocaust-education.html. Accessed 8 April 2019.

Baek, Jieun. “The Opening of the North Korean Mind: Pyongyang versus the Digital Underground.” Foreign Affairs, no. 1, 2017, p. 104-113. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=edsgea&AN=edsgcl.477642117&site=eds-live.

Barnard, Christopher. “Isolating Knowledge of the Unpleasant: The Rape of Nanking in Japanese High-School Textbooks.” British Journal of Sociology of Education, no. 4, 2001. Accessed 8 April 2019.

Caryl, Christian. “10 Winners And 10 Losers Of 9/11.” RadioFreeEurope/RadioLiberty, RadioFreeEurope/RadioLiberty, 8 Sept. 2011, http://www.rferl.org/a/winners_and_losers_list/24321228.html. Accessed 8 April 2019.

Doshi, Vidhi and Nisar Mehdi. “70 years later, survivors recall the horrors of India-Pakistan partition” Washington Post, Washington Post, 14 Aug. 2017, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/asia-pacific/70-years-later-survivors-recall-the-horrors-of-india-pakistan-partition/2017/08/14/3b8c58e4-7de9-11e7-9026-4a0a64977c92_story.html?utm_term=.186763d5293b. Accessed 8 April 2019.

Editors, History.com. “Nanking Massacre.” History.com, A&E Television Networks, 9 Nov. 2009, http://www.history.com/topics/japan/nanjing-massacre. Accessed 8 April 2019.

Greene, Richard Allen. “A Shadow Over Europe.” CNN, Cable News Network, Nov. 2018, edition.cnn.com/interactive/2018/11/europe/antisemitism-poll-2018-intl/. Accessed 8 April 2019.

Huntemann, Nina, et al. Joystick Soldiers: the Politics of Play in Military Video Games. Routledge, 2010. Print.

Kojima, Hideo. Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty. PlayStation 2 version, Konami, 2001.

Lancet, The. “What Are the Geneva Conventions for?” The Lancet, no. 10003, 17 Oct. 2015. Accessed 8 April 2019.

LII Staff. “Geneva Conventions.” Legal Information Institute, Legal Information Institute, 19 June 2017, http://www.law.cornell.edu/wex/geneva_conventions. Accessed 8 April 2019.

Talev, Margaret. “Trump Cancels U.S. Report on Civilian Deaths in Drone Strikes.” Time, Time, 6 Mar. 2019, http://www.time.com/5546366/trump-cancels-drone-strike-rule/. Accessed 8 April 2019.

Yuan, Li. “Learning China’s Forbidden History, So They Can Censor It.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 2 Jan. 2019, http://www.nytimes.com/2019/01/02/business/china-internet-censor.html. Accessed 8 April 2019.

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