Pin It

Book Review 

by Michael Bowen

The world distrusts America, and not just because of Iraq. Other countries' high school history books present varying perspectives, of course. But History Lessons: How Textbooks From Around the World Portray U.S. History demonstrates that other nations often look at different events altogether.

Nigerian textbooks enumerate the terrible costs of slavery at home (not in North America), while still noting that West Africans were enslaving one another long before the Portuguese showed up in the 1520s. Arabs aren't the only ones who resent "crusades": Mexican texts explicitly link America's "Manifest Destiny" to the crusades as well. Both Japanese and Italian history books charge Truman with dropping the bomb more to deter Russia than to defeat Japan. In North Korea, schoolkids have only the sole state-mandated textbook to go on when it comes to learning about how their "greatly adored leader" Kim Il-sung fought off the "American bastards" and "wolf-dogs" -- not exactly the Gen. MacArthur-dominated account of the Korean War that you get in U.S. history books. And don't get the Saudis started on American peacekeeping in the Middle East.

Almost comical are the number of nations that crave time in the world spotlight. Norwegian schoolteachers dwell on the 11th century a lot (one word: Vikings). Textbooks in Iran and North Korea exult in public relations victories over the United States (1979 hostage crisis, 1993 nuclear negotiations). France claims that the American Revolution was their idea.

With brief excerpts scattered among 50 chapters, this is a book to skip around in. The contrasts among U.S. and other perspectives are sometimes not as dramatic as Lindaman and Ward would like to think: Their brief introductions are often more argumentative than the contrasts among the quoted textbook passages.

Yet sometimes the excerpts themselves echo through the years. A Canadian chapter on the Vietnam War, for example, criticizes American involvement in now-familiar terms: "The war became the perfect symbol ... of everything that was wrong with mainstream American society. It was equally exportable as an emblem of American evil, representing everything that the rest of the world hated about the United States, including its arrogant assumption that it was always morally superior."

And that's one of our allies talking. Evidently the U.S. textbook selection process -- the least centralized in the world -- hasn't cornered the market on truth.

Publication date: 09/30/04

  • Pin It

Latest in News

  • Token Democracy
  • Token Democracy

    Would letting Washington voters give taxpayer money to politicians reduce the power of interest groups — or just subsidize politicians?
    • Oct 20, 2016

    Breaking down some of the issues you'll get to vote on this year
    • Oct 20, 2016
  • Shea's World
  • Shea's World

    As Matt Shea seeks re-election, his presence may be felt more in other local races than in his own
    • Oct 20, 2016
  • More »


Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

Today | Sat | Sun | Mon | Tue | Wed | Thu
Bodies Human: Anatomy in Motion

Bodies Human: Anatomy in Motion @ Mobius Science Center

Tuesdays-Sundays. Continues through Dec. 31

All of today's events | Staff Picks

More by Michael Bowen

Most Commented On

  • The Do-Over

    After failing to pass a bus service tax hike last year, Spokane Transit Authority has a plan to get you to vote for it again
    • Oct 6, 2016
  • Pants on Fire

    U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers can't see the forest for the trees when it comes to climate change
    • Oct 6, 2016
  • More »

Top Tags in
News & Comment

election 2016


green zone


trail mix

Readers also liked…

  • Death, Lies* and Videotape
  • Death, Lies* and Videotape

    A Spokane case highlights an American dilemma: Who polices the police?
    • Mar 11, 2015
  • New Blood
  • New Blood

    Candidates are launching bids for Spokane City Council and could bring big changes to city government
    • Mar 18, 2015

© 2016 Inlander
Website powered by Foundation