Archive for Wednesday, June 26, 2002

Letter to the editor

June 26, 2002

To the editor:

Of the many issues addressed by Don Coldsmith in his column of June 19 (You can't change history no matter what), I found his comments on the revision of history most interesting. At the risk of offending Dr. Coldsmith, I offer an alternative perspective.

Dr. Coldsmith suggests that it is "intellectually dishonest to try to rewrite history to make it more acceptable to anyone's particular point of view." Such a position assumes that historical records are written once and never revised when new evidence is identified. I would contend that it is not intellectually dishonest to acknowledge the substantial contributions made by Sacagawea, a Shoshone woman, to the success of the expedition by Lewis and Clark. Neither is it intellectually dishonest to recognize the role Frederick Douglass, a former slave, played in focusing the American Civil War on the moral issue of slavery. In more recent times, it is not intellectually dishonest to note the invaluable work of Navajo "code talkers" in the Allied efforts during World War II. Yet, given Dr. Coldsmith's criterion that "history is recorded by the winning side," these stories might never have been heard.

The perspectives provided by members of minority groups are often as historically important as those provided by members of majority groups. As a historian, I would think Dr. Coldsmith, of all people, would appreciate the richness provided by these multiple perspectives. Such appreciation does not require the rejection of intellectual standards, but rather a willingness to listen to and critically evaluate explanations of historical events proposed by "other" sides. For persons seeking to understand the past, this seems to be a minimal commitment. In fact, to do anything less would be intellectually dishonest.

Tony Brown

Baldwin City

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