Dirty History

There is great power in the victim identity . . .The subtle power in the victim status often seems like the only good thing and the only survival tool to come out of the event. Many are reluctant, very reluctant, to give up a useful “victim identity” for a possible stronger self. –Rory Miller, Meditations on Violence: A Comparison of Martial Arts Training & Real World Violence

History can sometimes be hard to read. Often it is elegantly navigated and thinned to be a vanilla topic on a period of time. These alterations and reconstructions cause permanent damage to the truth, and conclusively, any twist of the truth, however slight, becomes a lie. There is beauty in history, good or bad, if nothing more than the lessons we learn, the information gathered and understood to either repeat or avoid. There are many thousands of things in history that should not be repeated, but playing the role of the victim from a historical event, mainstreaming curriculums and putting our proverbial hands over our ears are NOT the answers. The words used in this time period should never be read or the pictures should never be shown is a typical knee-jerk response.

Having just finished a book by Nathaniel Philbrick, The Last Stand, I came upon the horror of things most people would rather detract from history books, tear down statues, twist the facts, or all of the above. Being an military veteran, it was hard for me to fathom the amount of pain dispersed by U.S. soldiers in the late 19th Century, i.e. Sandy Creek Massacre and Wounded Knee. Sure, I could focus on the many atrocities in history, but they are all what they are. The point is to understand why society, as a whole, attempts to erase or distort the past. The why of a historical topic is crucial. Yes, this happened. Why did it happen (within the timeframe it was done) and why should we avoid it? It promotes critical thinking among students and promotes the possession of future knowledge of said subject which compels those generations to hold truth as a value.

Acquiring the identity of victims from the past is a trending issue. Being a descendent of a victim or feeling empathy for a victim in the past does not constitute a person to receive condolences on behalf of those in the past. They were the victims. In an article, “Unraveling the Mindset of Victimhood,” by Scott Kaufman, there are four main dimensions of interpersonal victimhood:

1. constantly seeking recognition for one’s victimhood

2. moral elitism

3. lack of empathy for the pain and suffering of others

4. frequently ruminating about past victimization

Constantly seeking recognition of one’s victimhood are those who have a perpetual need to have their suffering acknowledged. Moral elitism can be used to control others by accusing others of being immoral, unfair or selfish, while seeing oneself as supremely moral and ethical. While lack of empathy for the pain and suffering of others are people Who are oblivious to the pain and suffering of others. Research shows that people who have just been wronged or who are reminded of a time when they were wronged feel entitled to behave aggressively and selfishly, ignoring the suffering of others and taking more for themselves while leaving less to others. Frequently ruminating about past victimization are groups who tend to frequently ruminate over their traumatic events. For instance, the widespread existence of Holocaust material in Jewish Israeli school curricula, cultural products and political discourse has increased over the years. Although modern-day Jewish Israelis are generally not direct victims of the Holocaust, Israelis are increasingly preoccupied with the Holocaust, dwelling on it and fearing that it could happen again.

Kaufman goes on to say that group members can learn that victimhood can be leveraged as a power play, and that aggressiveness can be legitimate and fair if one party has suffered. People may learn that internalizing a victimhood mentality can give them power over others and protect them from any of the consequences of online mobbing and shaming that they may impose on members of the perceived out-group.

None of this is to discount the aforementioned atrocities in history. Horrible things have been done, but so have good things as a result of stopping the horrible things. The Kaufman article winds up with three simple questions: “What if we all learned that it’s possible to have healthy pride for an in-group without having out-group hate? That if you expect kindness from others, it pays to be kind yourself? That no one is entitled to anything, but we all are worthy of being treated as human?”

History is important. We must use it as a tool and not as a weapon. We, as a society, are making history every day. It is crucial that we continue, as much as possible, to be on an upward trajectory.

Kaufman, Scott. ” Unraveling the Mindset of Victimhood.” Scientific American, 29 June. 2020.

8 thoughts on “Dirty History

    1. I am descended from the Creek Nation; however, I personally don’t feel a lasting impact on the Trail of Tears. Was it tragic? Yes. Absolutely, but I don’t carry use the abuse of my descendants as a weapon of entitlement. Also, I don’t understand the term “American Christian.” It is either too broad or too narrowed.
      Thank you for your response and reading.

      1. True — there is a lot of variation across individuals and even groups within a single culture. Victimhood isn’t good in any incarnation. But that doesn’t mean we should ignore the consequences of actions — even across multiple generations. Quick (positive) Ex: my maternal grandfather was first in any generation of my family to attend college. 13/15 of his grandchildren have at least one college degree. Those kinds of generational effects can be measured in both positive and negative actions and consequences…Apologies for the shorthand — many Christian sects/groups in the United States have a stronger sense of victimhood than other Christians around the world or other groups in general. That’s why I included the link for more detail.

  1. Nice post. Revisionism in history is an awful thing to see. Not unique to any one country, but when you see it in a context you understand and know, it’s deeply frustrating.

    1. I like that: revisionism. It is so true. No, it is not unique. The odd thing is that is hardline stuff in communist and socialist countries. “We will tell you what your history is.” :/

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