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Sundays With The Christianists: American History Textbooks That Will Live In Infamy
After all those wonderful lies about the Great Depression, it will be nice to get back to something more like reality in our rightwing Christian textbooks for the Christian school/homeschooling market. And so, on with World War II -- as we've noted, once these guys have an actual shooting war to look at, they tend to tone down the Culture War stuff.
And for one of our two texts, the 11th/12th-grade United States History for Christian Schools (Bob Jones University Press, 2001), that's pretty much the case -- there is almost nothing in this textbook's coverage of WWII that would be out of place in a secular textbook. Happily for our purposes, our other book, A Beka's eighth-grade America: Land I Love (1994, 2006), is just as full of crazy as ever, and even some of its discussion of the war itself is at best cursory. This is important, because we just aren't ready to jump straight into the weirdness that is their discussion of the Cold War. (How's that for a teaser for next week?)
Let's start with the primary causes of World War II: Socialism, spiritual emptiness, and of course, Charles Darwin. Yep, it's going to be another of those chapters.
So, yes, Mussolini and Hitler were both socialists; never mind that both of them suppressed socialist parties. Land I Love gives us this nearly meaningless definition of "fascism":
Much like socialism, fascism meant government control of most political, economic, cultural, religious, and social activities. It allowed for some private enterprise but maintained heavy regulation over those businesses that were privately owned.
You know, exactly like the EPA or OSHA, by golly! Hitler, the book claims, came to power because he "promis[ed] the German people government job programs and other economic relief." Apart from an early mention that the Great Depression was "much worse" in Europe than in the U.S., there's no mention of the other real factors that led to Hitler's rise -- he was just a charismatic guy with a jobs program.
Also, of course, Europe suffered from more than just economic troubles:
The people of Italy and Germany were fooled by the lies of Hitler and Mussolini because their economic troubles were compounded by spiritual blindness. The liberal theology in German universities and seminaries blinded many to Biblical truths. Spiritual darkness prevailed in Italy as well. In both countries, the Lutherans, Roman Catholics, and Jews who protested the socialist governments were terrorized, imprisoned, or murdered.
And, yes, of course, in reality a lot of those doing the protests were socialists and communists, but why confuse the kids? It would be entirely too difficult for an eighth-grader to understand, so it just makes more sense not to bring up messy details. The extreme nationalism of the fascists is mentioned, but not given any particular weight, because why would Christian children need to be warned against an absolutist, us-versus-them ideology?
In Land I Love, Hitler's anti-Semitism is almost presented as subordinate to his supposed dedication to socialism. Hitler
used the fear and distrust that he had created to turn Germans against their Jewish neighbors, many of whom owned profitable businesses. Hitler accused Jewish business owners of greed and selfishness and began to seize their property in the name of the German government. Before long, the Nazis controlled many businesses and factories in Germany and heavily regulated those allowed to remain in private hands. As a socialist, Hitler believed that the government should own the nation’s industries and take responsibility for its people. Hitler’s creation of a socialist state gave him the power he needed to become the absolute dictator of Germany. By embracing socialism, the German people lost their freedoms to a tyrant.
Of course, this gets the reality exactly backward -- seizing Jewish businesses and assets was a fine way to finance the Nazi state, but the goal of destroying the Jews was always primary -- we were impressed by the hand-waving that transforms "heavily regulated" into the equivalent of "seized by the government." Happily for quote miners, Hitler himself said enough contradictory things about capitalism and socialism that he can be painted as both a socialist and a friend of big business. But suggesting that he was driven by economics mostly misses the point -- economic theory was entirely secondary to his racist nationalism. But again, far easier to tell the kids he was a socialist, because the word is right there in the name of the National Socialist party.
As for the Nazis' racism, well, that's just the inevitable result of Darwinism (never mind that the Nazis banned Origin of Species, shhhhh):
Hitler combined Marxist-socialism with Darwin’s theory of evolution, proclaiming that the German people had evolved into a superior or master race. He called for a world war to kill off the weaker races (especially the Jews) and assure the "survival of the fittest" (the German people). Because many Germans believed the notion of evolution, they accepted Hitler’s ideas. Soon public hospitals began to practice euthanasia (killing the terminally ill, the mentally retarded, and those with physical handicaps) and abortion (killing unborn babies).
Again, details kinda-sorta matter -- the idea that Nazism had anything to do with evolutionary theory has been debunked so many times that we're not going to bother doing it again here -- you can look it up. Similarly, the idea that Hitler liberalized abortion is wrong, too -- he actually banned abortion and restricted contraception for good Aryan women, who needed to pump out babies for the Fatherland, while encouraging or forcing abortion and sterilization for Jews, Slavs, and other untermenschen. Needless to say, the Nazis' suppression of labor unions somehow goes completely unmentioned.
Once we get to the actual fighting of WWII, Land I Love settles down a bit. Its coverage of the major events of the war is adequate but superficial. Weirdly, the book devotes far more attention to the April 1942 Doolittle raid on Tokyo -- 5 paragraphs -- than it does on the Battle of Midway, which gets a two-sentence summary. Sure, the Doolittle raid was a nice morale-booster for the home front,* but it's mostly mentioned here so that the authors can devote a couple of paragraphs to the story of Jacob DeShazer, a crewman on one of the bombers, who was captured by the Japanese in China:
During DeShazer’s imprisonment, a Japanese guard shoved a tattered Bible under the young pilot’s cell door. He read it, memorized key passages, and on June 8, 1944, accepted Christ as Savior. The Lord put within DeShazer’s heart a love for his Japanese captors. After the war, DeShazer became an evangelist and returned to Japan as a missionary.
Even this brief paragraph gets some details wrong -- DeShazer wasn't a pilot, he was a bombardier (like Yossarian), and the bit about the Bible makes it sound as if the guard was clandestinely sharing the forbidden Word of God, when in fact the Bible was one of several books provided to the American prisoners. Yes, he converted, but it was not because a kindly Christian sympathizer sneaked him a Bible. Still, miracle, right?
We also learn how the magic of America's Free Enterprise system won the war, you see: as the nation's economy "shook itself from its Depression-era slumber," this led to an "economic urge" that "encouraged private enterprise to research and develop weapons of war." Oddly, Land I Love presents this as an economic boom that just kind of happened somehow, as if the wisdom of the free market was what caused factories to switch from building cars to tanks and airplanes, with a flood of women into the workforce as well. It's never directly pointed out that the whole enterprise was planned in Washington and paid for by taxation and deficit spending. Our Bob Jones University book, U.S. History, is honest enough to acknowledge that the wartime economic surge was the result of government planning, with interventions like the War Production Board's order that production of civilian goods be ended and all industry thrown into the war effort, with rationing and tight controls on wages and prices -- you know, temporary socialism, more or less.
We get back to more predictable territory in the discussion of the Yalta Conference near the end of the war. U.S. History is content to go with a fairly standard conservative view that, in making plans for the shape of postwar Europe, FDR and Churchill made more compromises to Stalin than they should have. It attributes FDR's "disappointing performance" at Yalta to unpleasant "political realities" as well as to "wishful thinking" and FDR's failing health.
Land I Love, predictably enough, paints FDR at Yalta as either a dupe or a willing co-conspirator:
President Roosevelt believed that Stalin was a "democratic socialist" like himself, with no intention of enslaving Eastern Europe, but history proved him wrong ...
Roosevelt supported central government control and saw Stalin as a peace-loving, democratic socialist. Of course, Stalin encouraged such thinking, but many Americans warned FDR to be careful with Stalin. In a meeting at Yalta, a seaside resort on the Russian coast of the Black Sea, FDR, who was by this time very ill, let Stalin take advantage of him. It was later revealed that one of the President’s closest advisers at Yalta, Alger Hiss, was a Communist party organizer in the United States.
After all, what else would you expect from the man who brought socialism to the USA during the Depression? Thank goodness free enterprise won the war, even though Roosevelt tried to stab us in the back at Yalta.
Also, we learn, Roosevelt "betrayed the Nationalist Chinese leader Chiang Kai-shek, who bravely fought both Communist terrorists and the Japanese, by allowing the rich province of Manchuria to remain under Soviet control and by letting the Communists have Mongolia." That guy just couldn't get much of anything right, could he?
Somehow, America won the war anyway, even with all that betraying going on. Land I Love suggests that George Patton's recommendation to push all the way to Berlin was ignored by Eisenhower because he was either afraid to risk American lives, or because "he had already promised Stalin the city of Berlin as a prize of war" -- an interpretation straight out of the John Birch Society. Where most discussions of the war tend to end with Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the Japanese surrender, Land I Love ends its WWII section with Yalta, the better to emphasize that if Roosevelt hadn't been such a wimp, the Cold War might never have been necessary.
And finally, we should also note this hilarious take on postwar Japan:
General MacArthur noted that the problem of war and violence had at its root the spiritual failure of men and their need for a spiritual rebirth ... Although the Japanese people felt utterly humiliated in their defeat, MacArthur had great respect for them and encouraged relief efforts and economic redevelopment. He realized that Japan’s real need was moral and religious. MacArthur wrote:
The more missionaries we can bring out here [to Japan], and the more occupation troops we can send home the better.
At his request, the Pocket Testament League distributed 10 million Japanese Bibles. Many Japanese people gathered eagerly to receive a copy of God’s Word. For a short while, there was a spiritual awakening in Japan.
And then they discovered manga and tentacle porn, we guess, although Land I Love is a bit fuzzy on these details.
Next Week: The Cold War and how the UN made everything worse.
* And of course, since Japanese military leaders mistakenly thought the bombers had come from Midway Island, not an aircraft carrier, the Doolittle Raid indirectly led to the defeat of the Japanese navy at Midway -- a detail that Land I Love doesn't bother mentioning.
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