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You can't trust your own eyes!

Posted Monday, April 12, 2010, at 7:39 AM

So what's wrong with this famous photo??
Recently, I opened my Facebook page to see a remarkable photo of my former student, Jarret Bollinger, shaking hands with a young Elvis Presley. I did a double-take, and my first reaction was, "Hey! That guy looks just like Elvis!" Of course, Jarret responded, "It IS Elvis, Mrs. D! Don't you recognize the photo?"

For a minute, my mind was completely disoriented, and then I brought myself up to the 21st Century. The photo was of Richard Nixon and Elvis, and Jarret had photo-shopped his own head into the picture!

Whenever I see this kind of thing, I can't help thinking of a Newsweek story I saw in the dim past: The story was a review of a "new" book called, "The Commissar Vanishes," and it treated the reader to a delightfully morbid gallery of old photos from Josef Stalin's era in the old Soviet Union.

Stalin, whose brutality after the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917 resulted in his gradual rise to supreme power, is reported to have been responsible for the death of 20 to 25 million people before his own peaceful death in 1953. Many of the 25 million were former friends and fellow revolutionaries of the Soviet dictator. No one was safe from his delusional hunger for absolute power.

A few years ago, I searched for and found the book on Amazon.com and ordered it, for no other reason than to page through the laughable attempts by this horrific dictator to cover his murderous tracks by doing his own primitive "photo-shopping." Back in those early days, the pictures had to be cut apart with scissors and pasted back together to eliminate the presence of party members whom Stalin had ordered shot. They were turned into "unpersons," as if they had never existed. The backgrounds were always problematic for Stalin and his henchmen, as there would be pictures on the walls, furnishings, and other items that had to be fit into the new picture.

One photo showed a group of about ten men standing in front of a desk. As the months and years progressed, one after another was cut from the photo - until only Stalin remained, standing alone, a grisly reminder of how dangerous it was to be friends with the paranoid "Man of Steel."

The whole idea was to change history, to make it mutable, changeable. Nothing was as it seemed, and a good memory was considered a personal flaw. George Orwell's haunting novel "1984" put the era into fictional form, making it vivid and immediate for the reader. Winston Smith, the main character, struggles to develop the technique of "Double-Think" and to make his mind accept what he knows isn't true -- but he's too intelligent: He fails and is crushed by the system.

In our current era of amazing technology, Stalin's primitive attempts to change history are laughable, but there are those in our society who wonder if the same process is not at work today.

The question haunts us: Can we trust our own eyes?

April 12, 2010 postscript:

This morning's CBS morning news contained some eerie revelations from the year 1941: It seems that a massacre arranged by Stalin is back in the news today. (I wish I had un-muted my tv sooner.) Here's the relevant report from the past:

"Stanley Majcher still remembers the epitaphs Polish soldiers scrawled in blood on prison walls before they were massacred in the Katyn Forest.''They knew they were going to die. They cut their hands and fingers and used their bleeding fingers to write their names on jail cell walls at Starobielsk,'' said Majcher, a former fighter pilot and one of the few Polish prisoners of war who escaped the slaughter.Majcher, who lives in Cocoa, has known since 1940 what Mikhail Gorbachev admitted to the world only last month: that it was Josef Stalin's secret police - and not the Germans - who slaughtered as many as 15,000 Polish officers."

History never really dies!

From the innocent, green hills of suburban Tillman, Missouri, this is your rural reporter Madeline, taking a chilling journey into the past...and praying for a brighter future.

Showing comments in chronological order
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I haven't had the opportunity to check it out, but I've been told that the new student textbooks are undergoing a similar rewriting to eliminate certain historical events now considered unimportant or controversial. I believe the person who told me this was concerned that World War II was being given very short shrift - barely even mentioned.

I can't think what the reason would be for this revising of history, but I do know that most schools are switching textbooks in every area, because McGraw Hill is the company making the M.A.P. tests - and the schools want their curriculum to line up with the tests. These days, there's just no time in class to teach anything but what's on the test. None of the wars are getting extensive coverage anymore.

-- Posted by goat lady on Sun, Apr 11, 2010, at 7:25 AM

It's really strange and unnecessary when publishing companies determine what our students are learning. My eye doctor says I have perfect vision and clear eyes, but we see some strange things written nowadays.

-- Posted by Dexterite1 on Mon, Apr 12, 2010, at 10:20 AM

It's kinda like when the insurence companies determines if you need the prescribed treatment or not. (off Topic, I Know)

-- Posted by mythought on Mon, Apr 12, 2010, at 11:33 AM

And you cannot think of a reason for history's being rewritten??

-- Posted by geezerette on Mon, Apr 12, 2010, at 1:43 PM

You don't have to look beyond the shores of the U.S. to see many examples of history being rewritten, or simply pushed aside by a new and better version. The late Howard Zinn made a career out of exposing how the "winners" in society write history as they want it to be, not as it was. The examples are innumerable. Several I'll mention revolve around one of the biggest frauds in American history: Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln was a virulent racist who wanted to send all Negros back to Africa or if that wasn't practical, to send them to South America so that the U.S. would be a "white" country. But that truth interferes with the myth he was a great man who pursued the Civil War to liberate the South's slaves. Which is another myth because the underlying cause of the conflict was the refusal of the South to be subjected to unfair taxation (tariffs) that served to transfer wealth from Southern states to Northern states. Contemporary books and articles written at the time clearly explain the economic issues underlying the conflict. And oh yes, Lincoln is today venerated for the Emancipation Proclamation freeing the slaves. Except it didn't apply to slaves in the northern states. In fact, by today's standards Lincoln would be tried as a war criminal for crimes against humanity because of the treatment of the South he countenanced by his military commanders. If Sherman's March had occurred in Russia under Stalin, both Sherman and Stalin would be vilified in this country as sadistic monsters. And rightly so! Sherman and Lincoln WERE sadistic monsters!!

-- Posted by FJGuy on Tue, Apr 13, 2010, at 3:01 AM

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Madeline DeJournett
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Madeline (Giles) DeJournett is the Advance writer for the North Stoddard Countian. A retired high school English/history teacher, she spent 32 years teaching in 5 schools in Missouri and Alaska. These days, she lives quietly with a menagerie of wild and domestic animals on 52 secluded acres in the remote Tillman hills south of Advance. She graduated from Dexter High School in 1960 and Southeast Missouri State in 1964. She can be contacted at advancensc@sbcglobal.net.
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