[This article was published in the Winter 2016 issue of The Journal of Social, Political and Economic Studies, pp. 68-86.]
Ty Cobb Revisited – A Reminder of a Perennial Question: Whom Are We to Believe?
Dwight D. Murphey
Wichita State University (Retired)
Ty Cobb is said to have been “the best baseball player of all time.” For nearly a century, his extraordinary ability has been overshadowed by his reputation as arguably the sport’s nastiest player. Now, Charles Leerhsen’s book Ty Cobb: A Terrible Beauty takes another look, and finds a man who, though a fierce competitor, was not the ogre commonly pictured. The book deserves a review in its own right, but we have seen a broader significance that points to a perennial problem that is more than ever present today. The question of “Whom are we to believe?” comes up with regard to a great many things we think we know or are given to believe. This article will rather randomly introduce (though not attempt to resolve) several such issues. Readers will find each interesting, important and provocative in its own right; but each is offered here because cumulatively they illustrate the extent to which we live behind a mental veil. A miasma of untruths, questionable truisms, partisan judgments, and pregnant silences points to an epistemological quandary that clouds our apprehension of reality.
Key Words: Ty Cobb, Whom to believe?, GMOs, Global Warming, MLK plagiarism, JFK assassination, Japanese-American relocation, number of illegal immigrants, World War I atrocity propaganda, Sand Creek “massacre,” Lusitania, the first Holocaust, Iwo Jima flag raising participants, University of Virginia rape story, Duke University lacrosse team story, gay pastor’s false account.
Starting as a rookie in 1905, Ty Cobb played professional baseball, primarily as a right fielder for the Detroit Tigers, for over twenty-three seasons as the preeminent star of the “dead ball era.” The livelier ball had not yet come in to center the game around homeruns, so the sport Cobb excelled at was the exciting “small ball” of shorter hits, bunts and daring base running. On the bases, Cobb wanted his opponents to see him as “dangerous to the point of dementia,” making them throw in frantic haste as he tore around toward home plate. In one game, he stole bases on three consecutive pitches; in another, he scored from first base on a sacrifice bunt. He stole home 54 times – a record that still stands. Cobb’s lifetime batting average was a remarkable .366. When all this was combined with his outstanding defensive play, it is no wonder he was the first person inducted into Cooperstown’s Baseball Hall of Fame, established in 1936.
In his 2015 biography Ty Cobb: A Terrible Beauty, Charles Leerhsen points to Cobb’s other sides: he read constantly; it was a highly educated friend who called him “an intellectual giant.” He used this intelligence as a meticulous student of the game. (This showed up in such small ways as when, coming into a base, “he would always watch the infielder’s eyes to see which side of the bag the ball was headed toward, and then try to slide the other way.”) But even though Cobb had “an air of aristocracy,” a “taste for high culture,” and a prominent, well-educated father, he was fully at home in a rough-and-ready time when “Alpha male fisticuffs” and the sort of earthy culture that is familiar today to readers of J. D. Vance’s bestselling Hillbilly Elegy set the tone. We are surprised, but not totally so, when told that Cobb’s mother shot and killed his father. Of baseball, Leerhsen says “cheating and fighting were believed to be central to the game.” Players sometimes wrestled umpires to the ground, refused to leave a base when called out, and chased heckling fans up in the crowd (both Ty Cobb and Babe Ruth did this). Cobb’s physical courage was evident when he volunteered to be a flame thrower, one of the most dangerous combat assignments, in World War I. (The armistice came just in time to prevent his going into combat.)
Leerhsen tells us that, despite all this, sensationalizing biographers and inventive journalists (one in particular) fashioned a public image of Cobb as an unsportsmanlike butcher, a racist, a “crabbed, sad soul,” and overall detested and detestable individual who did great dishonor to his talent. This has long been gobbled up by a public eager to believe the worst. Leerhsen offers an insight into the psychology involved: If you told a fanciful story about Lincoln, he says, “historians would demand to know your sources. But if you tell the same exact story about Cobb, people embrace it gleefully and do not ask further details.” Why? Because Cobb was “a villain who inspires self-congratulation.” This psychology, evident even in so small a thing as an individual ballplayer’s reputation, will play a role in several of the issues, some of them major, covered in this article.
We will leave it to those who read the book to see Leerhsen’s disproof of the various points in the mythology, although it is worth mentioning the most famous item in the caricature, which is a 1909 photo of Cobb supposedly trying to injure Home Run Baker with sharpened spikes while sliding into second base. Leerhsen says Baker “later admitted that Cobb was sliding away from him” and tells us that “Cobb didn’t sharpen his spikes that day or at any other time.”
Baseball fans will find the biography engrossing for its own sake, but what attracted us to it was the extent to which it illustrates, in what might well be considered a “microcosm” relating just to one individual, a problem that bedevils society, probably in all ages but quite pronouncedly in our own. How much of what we think we know is either untrue or only partly true? Who and what are we to believe? In the rest of this article, we will cite a number of instances, some of great importance and others of lesser significance, that illustrate how extensively a society subsists on questionable notions. The instances are taken at random, and are barely the tip of the iceberg of what could be explored.
When there are problems about “whom to believe” and about the dependability of expert and/or conventional knowledge, the mental ocean in which we swim is cloudy, at best. (There is no doubt a hard reality, such as we confront when struck by an oncoming truck, but much of the “reality” within which we live is formed by a web of perceptions and beliefs. This “reality” is very different, say, for someone in a secular society compared to that felt by those Congolese villagers who have believed life is controlled by the spirits of malevolent ancestors.) The fog of misinformation is a problem for everyone, including elites, but those who theorize about “democracy” will do well to appreciate how much meaningful public participation in politics is attenuated when “what we think we know just isn’t so” and when it is hard or impossible to know which sources to believe.
Whose Science? GMOs and Global Warming
Two issues that have received a lot of attention in recent years are the disputes about Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) and Global Warming (most recently called Climate Change). With regard to GMOs, the “scientific consensus” is said to support their safety and efficacy. With Global Warming, a consensus is said to exist that warming is occurring, that it portends possible disaster for humanity, and that the warming is significantly caused by human behavior, mainly the burning of fossil fuels.
Each of these claimed consensuses is hotly disputed, rightly or wrongly. Argument rages, in fact, over whether there really is a consensus. Be that as it may, it is clear that there are scientists on each side of both issues. We don’t mean to suggest that the balance of true science versus misguided or interest-serving science is necessarily the same in each of the two cases. It isn’t our purpose here to resolve the disputes, but rather to illustrate the theme of this article. Our point is that for the public at large, “Whom to believe?” is critical in judging where to come down on each issue.
It is not a matter that can easily be resolved by assessing the credentials of the respective scientists. With regard to each issue, there are interest groups that have a vital stake in directing science along a desired path. Is the science that supports GMOs a selective one funded out of self-interest by agricultural, business and governmental organizations? On the other hand, is the science that opposes them a selective one induced by the ideology of the “Green” movement? Similar questions are central to the Global Warming debate: Are there global political and economic interests, as well as an anti-industrial bias, skewing the science so as to predict disaster? Or are those who contest the Global Warming predictions mainly funded by the fossil fuel industry, and hence suspect as to their objectivity or even honesty? Given these factors, any conscientious person who is not an expert largely has to ask himself whom he trusts. Fundamentally, what is at issue is the integrity of science as it is conducted today. Much science goes on separate from controversy. Crucial questions are whether the rest of it can be trusted, and what can be done to establish a solid foundation for that trust.
The decision of whether or not to trust a given claim that is given a scientific imprimatur isn’t necessarily left to the individual. In American society today, there is a heavy incubus of “political correctness” that insists (sometimes with the backing of severe penalties, such as the boycotting of entire states) on obeisance to what the official culture holds to be true. A mechanism that gives this insistence so much sway is that many practical individuals find it convenient, even to the point of not having to think about it, to embrace this overlay of opinion. (It would be a mistake to think that scientists are somehow immune to “political correctness.”) As we saw above about Ty Cobb’s reputation, people even take a self-congratulatory pleasure in doing so, as though they have come up with the insights themselves rather than just conforming to them.
Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Plagiarism
Sometimes the truth barely becomes known and glimmers only on a thin scholarly underground layer. Silence, for some willful and for most a product simply of never having been informed, allows an entire alternate reality to prevail. This has been the case with Martin Luther King, Jr.’s plagiarism. A national holiday is celebrated in his name, his statute stands on the Mall in Washington, D.C., he is called “Dr. King,” and frequent mention is made of his 1963 “I Have a Dream” speech as one of the more eloquent addresses in the country’s history – all despite his having plagiarized his doctoral dissertation word for word, even copying typos, from a dissertation of a student three years before him at Boston University and despite his having plagiarized the most memorable phrases in the 1963 oration from a speech given at the 1952 Republican National Convention by a black Chicago city councilman, Archibald Carey, Jr.
When in 1994 the Rockford Institute published The Martin Luther King, Jr., Plagiarism Story, edited by Theodore Pappas, we had a lot of respect for the Institute but because of the startling nature of the revelation thought it imperative to obtain a copy of the city councilman’s 1952 speech from the Republican National Committee to check the allegation of plagiarism for ourselves. With the copy in hand, we compared it with King’s “I Have a Dream” speech and found the egregious similarities that left no doubt that one was copied from the other. We are told in Pappas’ book that the plagiarism was by no means limited to the dissertation and 1963 speech. “King’s Nobel Prize Lecture is plagiarized extensively from works by Florida minister J. Wallace Hamilton; the sections on Gandhi and nonviolence in his ‘Pilgrimage’ speech are stolen virtually verbatim from Harris Wofford’s speech on the same topic;… even the ‘Letter From Birmingham City Jail’… is based on work by Harry Fosdick, H. H. Crane and Harris Wofford.” 
In any other connection, plagiarism is condemned as disgraceful. A doctorate would never be awarded, or if awarded would be revoked, if the dissertation were dishonestly submitted. No honors would be heaped on the individual guilty of it. That the opposite is done in King’s case illustrates a number of points relevant to the theme of this article: It shows a monopoly over perceived reality – exercised by the dominant opinion culture, a partisan media, ideological selectivity, and political/ethnic interests. It demonstrates, too, the acquiescent role played by comfortable mental inertia; the killing of truth by silence; and the simultaneous existence of conflicting perceptions of reality, with serious intellectual work being consigned to a subterranean layer. An interesting thing is that the sponsorship of a King myth celebrated by the society at large is what the New Left would have denounced as “cooptation.”
The Crenshaw Revelation About the JFK Assassination
There is an official account of the John F. Kennedy assassination -- that Lee Harvey Oswald shot him from the 6th floor of the Texas Book Depository in Dallas, and was in turn shot by Jack Ruby – which has prevailed in the public mind and the principal media outlets for over fifty years. Alternative explanations have been offered, and evidence pored over, without making much of a dent in the prevalence of this account.
It would seem, however, that much of what we think we know about the assassination simply isn’t true. This was brought home to this author rather jarringly not long ago when he belatedly read Dr. Charles A. Crenshaw’s book JFK Has Been Shot: A Parkland Hospital Surgeon Speaks Out. Crenshaw is a graduate of Southwestern Medical School (partnered with Parkland Hospital in Dallas) who began his residency in surgery at Parkland in 1961. He was a resident surgeon in the emergency ward at Parkland when JFK was brought in on November 22, 1963. The key information in Crenshaw’s book is that “the wounds to Kennedy’s head and throat I examined were caused by bullets that struck him from the front, not the back, as the public has been led to believe.” This means the bullets did not come from Oswald’s perch behind Kennedy, but from the area of the grassy knoll.
Crenshaw tells how the Warren Commission investigating the assassination didn’t get his testimony, and how he believes “the Warren Report to be a fable, a virtual insult to the intelligence of the American people.” Crenshaw says that for several years he was afraid to speak up, both “to protect my medical career, and possibly my life.” For all those years, the medical school, the hospital, and the U.S. government “have never been subtle about their desire for us doctors to keep quiet.” Thus, “what has evolved over the years” has been “a conspiracy of silence.”
This shattering of the conventional explanation doesn’t tell us who actually did the killing and who orchestrated the silence. For purposes of this article, what it does tell us is that a major historical event upon which much recent history has turned again raises the question of whom or what to believe, and suggests that we live in a world of much make-believe.
The Japanese-American Relocation
For the past thirty years, the American public has been virtually unanimous in believing the American government interned tens of thousands of Japanese-Americans during the Second World War. The popular columnist Abigail van Buren summed it up when she wrote: “To our everlasting shame, approximately 100,000 loyal American citizens were held in concentration camps for the duration of World War II.”
Enjoying the same moral superiority shown by van Buren, almost everyone one talks to is armed with an ironclad resolution to accept without question the iniquity of 1940s Americans. Indeed, they consider it deeply repugnant to question it. They don’t realize they have swallowed, “hook, line and sinker,” a myth born out of the anti-American agitations of the 1960s. As Dr. Ken Masugi of the Claremont Institute made clear in 1984, the accepted view is the product of “Japanese-Americans who were activists in the Sixties and then became lawyers and community organizers.” The New Left narrative overturned the good feelings that had prevailed for the first twenty years after the war, and was given an official imprimatur by the 1983 report of the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians. This was the commission about which John J. McCloy, who had been Assistant Secretary of War during the war, complained that “the manner and the atmosphere in which the hearings were held was outrageous and a disgrace.”
The problem is that what everybody knows to be true is a gross caricature of what really happened. Shortly after Pearl Harbor, the Japanese-American population on the West Coast of the United States was moved inland to “relocation centers” from which they were encouraged to migrate anywhere in the United States other than the West Coast. By the end of the war, rather than having stayed in the centers, half of those evacuated had, in the words of Senator S. I. Hayakawa, “found new jobs and homes in mid-America and the East.” Those who chose to stay lived in the same kind of (austere) housing used by American soldiers overseas, and enjoyed a great many amenities (to which the energies of the Japanese-Americans themselves contributed greatly). College-age evacuees immediately began enrolling in colleges and universities around the country, with the result that by the end of the war 4,300 were attending more than 300 of them (again, everywhere but on the West Coast). The only people “interned” were about 3,000 Japanese aliens who were arrested by the Department of Justice within days of the Pearl Harbor attack, and, among the evacuees, those who were hostile to the United States (as exemplified, for example, by marching in formation wearing rising-sun armbands), who were held in a “segregation center” at Tule Lake, California.
Our purpose here is simply to illustrate once again the difficulty of “whom to believe.” We won’t attempt an exhaustive discussion of the relocation here. It is not too much to say that anything that is pointed out in support of the American action is controverted and cast in a negative light by those who continue to be activist on the issue. Readers who want to see further discussion of the accepted narrative’s “other side” will find it useful to consult the study written by this author and cited in this footnote.
We haven’t commented until now on how much the “accepted truths,” no matter how false, are promoted and institutionalized by government. In 1988, Congress provided in the “Japanese Money Bill” for $20,000 payments, with an apology, to 60,000 of the evacuees. These included the 4,300 who had attended American universities during the war, and 160 people who while in the camps belonged to the militantly pro-Japanese Black Dragon Society. In November 2000 a monument was dedicated in Washington, D.C. and there are monuments in various of the relocation centers. This shows how oftentimes historical myths cease to be subjects of study or even of controversy, but rather of veneration.
An Invariable Figure: 11 million “undocumented immigrants”
For several years and in numerous accounts, the figure of 11 million has been used in telling how many illegal immigrants there are in the United States. As long ago as July 9, 2006, Roger Lowenstein, writing in the New York Times Magazine, said “the latest estimate is that the United States has 11.5 million undocumented foreigners.” Illegal immigration was one of the hottest issues during the presidential election campaign ten years later in 2016 – and the figure was still commonly set at 11 million.
This has led to Ann Coulter’s observation in Adios, America! that “Americans are being aggressively lied to about the number of illegal immigrants in the country. Has it ever seemed strange that there have been exactly 11 million illegals here for the past decade?” Analyzing the census data and taking into consideration the influx of hundreds of thousands of people in any given year, she estimates that “there are probably… upward of 30 million.” This is just an educated guess, of course, and no one really knows what the actual number is. What is clear, however, is that the 11 million figure is a convenient fabrication.
An odd thing is that the convenience serves both sides in the debate. Those who welcome an “open door” policy don’t want to alarm the public by having the phenomenon appear any larger than absolutely necessary. It is seldom noted that on the other side, too, there is reason to accept the ludicrously low 11 million number. “You’re not going to deport 11 million people, are you?” poses far less a conundrum than “You’re not going to deport 30 million people, are you?”
One thing we know: that fiction, not fact, prevails.
The Sand Creek Massacre
It is not just “old history,” but is relevant today that Americans’ commonly accepted notions about their own history are often fiction. Much of the prevailing narrative about American history has been fashioned out of the feelings of guilt toward ethnic minorities that has been instilled in the American people since the middle of the past century.
The “Sand Creek Massacre” is celebrated today as one of the best examples of white brutality. (Those who want to read the now-conventional view of it will find it in James Michener’s Centennial.) The “massacre” came about on November 29, 1864, when a force of more than 700 Colorado volunteer cavalrymen commanded by Col. John M. Chivington made a surprise early-morning attack on a village of Cheyenne and Arapaho Indians located along Sand Creek near what is now the Kansas border in southeastern Colorado. There were widely varying accounts of the number of Indians killed, and about how many were warriors and how many were women and children. An all-day pitched battle ensued after the initial surprise.
What is dropped from the usual accounts is context. A little investigation shows that it is far off the mark to see the villagers as innocents and the white volunteers from Denver as butchers. Here’s what the context shows: the American Civil War that began in 1861 called away the Army troops who had protected the settlers along the front range of the Rocky Mountains. This left those settlers, including the residents of the newly-formed city of Denver, defenseless. When in 1862 almost 800 white settlers were killed in the Minnesota uprising, Coloradans were filled with terror. This was heightened when in early 1863 a U.S. Indian agent reported to Colorado’s governor John Evans that the Sioux, Arapaho and Cheyenne had formed an alliance for a war of extermination against the whites. After this report, the governor travelled to several places on the plains to meet with the Indians to prevent war, but the chiefs refused to meet. During the months preceding the Sand Creek attack a total of 208 whites – men, women, children and soldiers – were killed by the Indians in a series of raids and battles. In June 1864 the bodies of the Hungate family, killed on a ranch twenty-five miles southeast of Denver, were brought to the city for display and burial. The children’s throats were cut so severely that their heads were barely attached to their torsos. A number of white scalps found in the Sand Creek village confirmed that the Indians there were among those who had attacked the settlers.
Even if all of this context were taken into account, those who find it rewarding to blame whites would still see the attack as a massacre of innocents. If it was part of a war (which it clearly was), it was from their perspective a war forced on the Indians by the invasion of their ancestral lands. This is part of a larger historical narrative that holds that it was wrong for Europeans to come to the north American continent and see it as an essentially empty space across which to send explorers such as Lewis and Clark and endless trains of covered wagons.
That this narrative seems incontestable to so many Americans illustrates, once again, much of what we are discussing here. We see the acceptance of the worldview of the opinion elite; the pride in feeling one’s own superiority to the immorality of earlier generations; the memorializing of a certain version of the truth by, say, the National Park Service; the piling-on of sentimental accounts from a media that is anxious to show how much it stands on the right side of history; and the existence of an alternative version of the truth – well-hidden on a submerged level.
The World War I atrocity propaganda
There is some dispute about who first said “in wartime, truth is the first casualty.” Regardless of the source, its wisdom is undeniable. An excellent book that discusses in detail the atrocity propaganda that was manufactured during World War I is Arthur Ponsonby’s Falsehood in Wartime: Propaganda Lies of the First World War.
Although Ponsonby cites the specifics of atrocity stories fabricated by Germany, it was those conjured up in France and England that most reached the United States. “There was no richer field for propaganda than the United States of America... The frenzy with which the whole propaganda was conducted in America surpasses anything we experienced here” [i.e., in Britain].
One of the best-known stories is that of Nurse Grace Hume, who was reported to have gone to Belgium to work in a camp hospital there. A news report in The Star on September 16, 1914 said “she was the victim of horrible cruelty at the hands of German soldiers. Her breasts were cut off and she died in great agony.” Two days later, however, The Times told its readers that even though “the story appeared to be particularly well authenticated… it was discovered to be entirely untrue, since the nurse in question was actually in Huddersfield and had never been to Belgium.” Three months later, the paper reported that “the case came before the High Court at Dumfries, and it was proved that Kate Hume (the sister) had fabricated the whole story.”
French refugees were quoted as saying that German soldiers were cutting off boys’ hands “so that there shall be no more soldiers for France.” A picture in Le Rive Rouge purported to show German soldiers eating the hands. This sort of propaganda was raised to an even more frenetic level by a picture in which “the Kaiser is depicted standing behind a huge block with an axe, his hands darkly stained with blood. Round the block are piles of hands.” A century later, we might find it hard to imagine that anyone would believe such a thing. Nevertheless, it is incumbent upon us to inquire whether the hand-cutting stories were true. In answer, Ponsonby quotes from the memoirs of Signor Nitti, the Prime Minister of Italy during the war, where Nitti wrote that “after the war a rich American, who was deeply touched by the French propaganda, sent an emissary to Belgium with the intention of providing a livelihood for the children whose poor hands had been cut off. He was unable to discover one… Every case investigated proved to be a myth.” We aren’t surprised, then, that Herbert Hoover, who did so much to feed the Belgians during the war, said “I never found much foundation for the stories of individual outrage or cruelty.” These examples do no more than hint at the amount of lying. Readers of Ponsonby’s book will find much, much more.
The lies did more than just inflame public opinion and provide motivation for prosecuting the war. Some of them had enormous impact on national and strategic decisions. Ponsonby, who served as a member of the British parliament, pays particular attention to Britain’s secret alliance with France. The alliance brought Britain into the war, but wasn’t known to all members of the Cabinet, and was even denied. He also reveals what was later found about the Serbian government’s role in the assassination of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand, whose murder was what occasioned the crisis that led to the war.
Perhaps the most telling lie so far as the fateful American involvement in the war was concerned had to do with the sinking of the Lusitania by a German U-boat eight miles off the coast of Ireland on May 7, 1915, with the loss of 1,198 lives,128 of them American. Ponsonby notes that “from the point of view of propaganda it was necessary to show that the Germans had blown up a defenseless passenger ship flying the American flag and bearing only civilian passengers and an ordinary cargo.” This was the version that was sold to the American public. An example of the lie that was being told can be seen in the Daily Express issue of May 11, 1915, where readers were told “it is untrue that the Lusitania was carrying ammunition on its final voyage.”
For its part, Germany denied the ship’s innocence. That Germany was right became known relatively soon, but the information was suppressed. According to The Nation on November 20, 1920, “D. F. Malone [the collector for the port of New York] revealed that the Lusitania carried large quantities of ammunition consigned to the British government… The Wilson administration refused to permit the publication of the fact.” Ponsonby says “it was eventually admitted that the Lusitania carried 5,400 cases of ammunition.”
The facts are still coming out many years later. The Daily Mail’s internet site reported in 2008 that an exploration of the sunken ship was being funded by “Gregg Bemis, an American businessman who owns the rights to the wreck.” The report says that “now divers have revealed a dark secret about the cargo… The diving team estimates that around four million rounds of U.S.-manufactured Remington .303 bullets lie in the Lusitania’s hold at a depth of 300ft.” Bemis suspects there is much more in the wreck still to be uncovered.
America’s intervention into World War I prevented either a German victory or a stalemate. The whole course of modern history was changed, with the lie about the Lusitania being a pivotal factor. The importance of this change is apparent when we consider the truth of the now-common observation that “World War II was a continuation of World War I.”
Other fictions, among many too numerous to mention
The examples we have given are sufficient to demonstrate the mental quandary in which humanity lives, but many more can be cited. We will end this article with a few, but readers from all persuasions are sure to think of others, perhaps pointing to prevaricators very different from the ones we have chosen to mention. What seems clear is that “whom and what to believe” is as pressing an issue in what Karl Popper called “an open society” as it is in any other.
Item: For more than half a century, Margaret Mead’s description of an idyllic life on Samoa in her 1925 work Coming of Age in Samoa was hailed as a pioneering work of anthropology. In 1983, however, the Harvard University Press published a book by Derek Freeman, a University of Australia anthropologist, giving a very different version of Samoan life, as indicated by the title of his book, Margaret Mead and Samoa – The Making and Unmaking of an Anthropological Myth. If Freeman is correct (and we’ll not undertake to decide that here), what most Americans were convinced they knew about Samoa’s being a Rousseauistic utopia “just wasn’t so.”
Item: Arguably the most famous photo from World War II was that showing the Marines raising the American flag on top of Mount Suribachi on Iwo Jima in early 1945. As is commonly known, the flag was raised twice, the second time being for the famed photograph. It is amazing that sixty-nine years later the Omaha World-Herald reported that two amateur historians questioned the identities of some of the men who had long been thought to have helped in the iconic events. An Associated Press article two years later, in August 2016, then reported that the United States Marine Corps acknowledged that it had “misidentified some of the men shown” in the famous photo. Further, “the Marines now say they were also mistaken in listing the names of those who raised the earlier flag.”
This is a small case of “revisionism,” involving something by no means as consequential as the deception about the Lusitania. The mistakes here can almost certainly not even be called “lies.” Some of what we think we know, but don’t, comes from no more than the confusion of war, negligence, bureaucratic steamrolling, or whatever.
Item: The occasions we are deliberately lied to are, unfortunately, not rare. In May 2016 the New York Times News Service reported that “an openly gay Texas pastor who had accused Whole Foods of defacing his cake with an anti-gay slur dropped his lawsuit against the grocery chain on Monday, issuing an apology that said he was wrong to ‘perpetuate this story.’ ‘The company did nothing wrong,’ Jordan Brown said in a statement.”  This was after a surveillance tape was released showing that the cake had not been defaced. This brings to mind the rape accusation against members of the Duke University lacrosse team, a charge disproved by DNA testing. In a separate case, Rolling Stone magazine set forth the story of a woman’s having been gang-raped by seven men at a University of Virginia fraternity party. A month later, the magazine expressed its regret for not having gotten the fraternity members’ side of the story. The Associated Press reported that “the statement Rolling Stone posted on its website said discrepancies in the woman’s account became apparent ‘in the face of new information….’”
Where does all this leave us? Certainly it puts us on notice that we live in a world made significantly of fictions. Even if we are careful to be highly selective in whom and what we believe, we are not likely to be able to penetrate through to the truth on more than a portion of what we are given to believe. Most often, we don’t even know to question something.
It shows how valid and important “revisionism” is. Any honest historian or investigator will have to go again and again to the facts, to the extent they can be known.
There is an essential contradiction between the conscientious search for truth, on the one hand, and the myths that provide social cohesion and that bind a people together, on the other. If it is admitted that a society needs both, and that each can be either wisely or unwisely applied, we are left with a difficult conundrum to which there is no one answer. Opinions about what myths are to be considered sacrosanct, and in what way the truth is to be uncovered about them, will differ depending on the social-political-economic-religious-cultural outlook of the observer.
Anyone who reads widely in serious non-fiction knows that there are a great many scholars, scientists and journalists who work conscientiously and capably. Perhaps what is needed is for them to become more self-conscious of the role they play, so that collectively they can assume their rightful place among their fellows. Then maybe a befuddled public can come to know them as “the ones to believe.”
John Stuart Mill said a free society needs the sort of “clerisy” pointed to by Coleridge. This would be an intellectual aristocracy such as perhaps the world has never known, simultaneously aristocratic and devoted to the people and values of a free society. Simply to mention it is to show how almost impossible it is of attainment. It would be a rare cultural flower.
There was a chance for such a thing in the United States after the American Revolution, but the mainstream of the West’s intellectual community, including that in the United States, soon adopted a strong anti-bourgeois alienation. The world Left then arose out of an alliance that began in Europe of the alienated intellectual and all disaffected or unassimilated groups. Those consisted primarily of the “proletariat” before the middle of the twentieth century and thereafter of the various minorities and ethnicities with which the Left has allied. Whether a new intellectual culture not alienated from the main body of the society will ever arise remains to be seen.
1. Theodore Pappas (ed.), The Martin Luther King, Jr., Plagiarism Story (Rockford Institute, 1994), p. 94.
2. The Economist reported in February 2011 that Germany’s defense minister, Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg, renounced his doctorate “days after the discovery that much of his 2006 doctoral thesis was copied from other sources without proper attribution. More than a fifth of the text was plagiarized….”
3. Dr. Charles A. Crenshaw, JFK Has Been Shot: A Parkland Hospital Surgeon Speaks Out (New York: Kensington Publishing Corp., 1992).
4. See “The Relocation of the Japanese-Americans During World War II” in Dwight D. Murphey, The Dispossession of the American Indian – and Other Key Issues in American History (Washington, D.C.: Scott-Townsend Publishers, 1995). This study may be accessed, free of charge, in www.dwightmurphey-collectedwritings.info as Book 7 (i.e., B7) and Article 48 (i.e., A48). A review of three books by Lillian Baker, who wrote prolifically on the relocation, appears as Book Review 26 (i.e., BR26).
5. Washington, D.C.: Regnery Publishing, 2015, p. 71. The quote that follows the footnote is from page 75.
6. A book giving that alternative version is Lt. Col. William R. Dunn’s “I Stand By Sand Creek”: A Defense of Colonel John M. Chivington and the Third Colorado Cavalry (Fort Collins, CO: The Old Army Press, 1985).
7. London: George Allen and Unwin, 1928, First American Edition, 1929, E. P. Dutton. Most recently published by the Institute for Historical Review, 1980, 1991.
8. Hoover is quoted in Louis P. Lochner, Herbert Hoover and Germany (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1960), pp. 26-7.
9. See the Wichita Eagle, May 17, 2016.
(1990) American and Japanese Relocation in World War II: Fact, Fiction & Fallacy (Medford, OR: Webb Research Group).
(2015) Adios, America! (Washington, DC: Regnery Publishing).
Crenshaw, Dr. Charles A.
(1992) JFK Has Been Shot: A Parkland Hospital Surgeon Speaks Out (New York: Kensington Publishing Corp.).
Dunn, Lt. Col. William R.
(1985) “I Stand By Sand Creek”: A Defense of Colonel John M. Chivington and the Third Colorado Cavalry (Fort Collins, CO: The Old Army Press).
(2005) The First Holocaust: Jewish Fund Raising Campaigns with Holocaust Claims During and After World War I (Chicago: Theses & Dissertations Press, 2nd revised edition).
(2015) Ty Cobb: A Terrible Beauty (New York: Simon & Schuster Paperbacks).
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(1950) On Bentham and Coleridge (New York: Harper Torchbooks).
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(1994) The Martin Luther King, Jr., Plagiarism Story (Rockford, IL: The Rockford Institute).
(1928, 1980) Falsehood in Wartime: Propaganda Lies Of the First World War (Costa Mesa, CA: Institute for Historical Review).
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(2002) Genetically Modified Foods: Debating Biotechnology (Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books).
Smith, Ted J. (ed.)
(1989) Propaganda: A Pluralistic Perspective (New York: Praeger).
Vance, J. D. (2016) Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis (New York: HarperCollins).
 Theodore Pappas (ed.), The Martin Luther King, Jr., Plagiarism Story (Rockford Institute, 1994), p. 94.
 The Economist reported in February 2011 that Germany’s defense minister, Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg, renounced his doctorate “days after the discovery that much of his 2006 doctoral thesis was copied from other sources without proper attribution. More than a fifth of the text was plagiarized….”
 Dr. Charles A. Crenshaw, JFK Has Been Shot: A Parkland Hospital Surgeon Speaks Out (New York: Kensington Publishing Corp., 1992).
 See “The Relocation of the Japanese-Americans During World War II” in Dwight D. Murphey, The Dispossession of the American Indian – and Other Key Issues in American History (Washington, D.C.: Scott-Townsend Publishers, 1995). This study may be accessed, free of charge, in www.dwightmurphey-collectedwritings.info as Book 7 (i.e., B7) and Article 48 (i.e., A48). A review of three books by Lillian Baker, who wrote prolifically on the relocation, appears as Book Review 26 (i.e., BR26).
 Washington, D.C.: Regnery Publishing, 2015, p. 71. The quote that follows the footnote is from page 75.
 A book giving that alternative version is Lt. Col. William R. Dunn’s “I Stand By Sand Creek”: A Defense of Colonel John M. Chivington and the Third Colorado Cavalry (Fort Collins, CO: The Old Army Press, 1985).
 London: George Allen and Unwin, 1928, First American edition, 1929, E. P. Dutton. Most recently republished by the Institute for Historical Review, 1980, 1991.
 Hoover is quoted in Louis P. Lochner, Herbert Hoover and Germany (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1960), pp. 26-7.
 See the Wichita Eagle, May 17, 2016.