Monday, June 15, 2020

Things we’ve been told that are untrue

   There are many things our leaders and the media have convinced us to believe over the years that are simply untrue.

   How many generations of us learned that the adventurous hero Columbus discovered America in 1492? There's even a national holiday in his honor. But the guy was neither a hero nor did he discover our continent. Leif Erickson was the first to come here across the Atlantic Ocean 500 years before Columbus, but there have been natives on our continent for thousands of years, and they were obviously the original discoverers, who came here across the land bridge that once existed between what are now Alaska and Russia. Columbus was a cruel killer who sold thousands of Taino people to Spain as slaves, murdered hundreds of native people in what is now the Dominican Republic to quell a rebellion, and, because he introduced diseases for which natives had no immunity, killed some 230,000 more Tainos. Not a guy we ought to be proud of, and many cities and states have finally converted Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples’ Day.

   Ask anyone what the first words spoken on the Moon were and you’ll get Armstrong’s pre-written statement about one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind. But those were not the first words.

   The first words spoken on arrival at the Moon’s surface were, “Okay, engine stop.” Followed by, “Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed.” Armstrong only spoke his famous line seven hours later. When you land at a New York airport, the first words you’re likely to hear from the captain are, “Welcome to New York,” not something you might hear that captain say seven hours later while stepping out of a cab. You arrived in the city when the aircraft’s wheels touched down.

   We’re led to believe astronauts experience little or no gravity in the ISS. Not true.

   Gravity on the station is virtually the same as it is on the planet’s surface. Gravity is acting on the astronauts constantly but they’re also in constant free fall; that’s why they’re floating, and why they can have such fun manipulating apparently suspended objects. It’s the same sensation skydivers experience before opening their chutes. The whole ISS is also in free fall. Only its high velocity of 17,150 mph keeps it in equilibrium with the pull of gravity. As it falls, the curvature of the planet is receding at the same rate beneath it, thus it always remains in orbit.

   Our politicians at every level have often lied to us over generations, but only relatively recently have we had the almost instant ability with the Internet and other public avenues to fact check them and call them on their lies, which any thinking person can see have become routinely commonplace in Washington and Congress. As just one fairly recent example, we were convinced of the need to invade Iraq to hunt down horrible weapons of mass destruction and punish Saddam Hussein for his alleged evil ties to Al Qaeda. But both reasons were utter myths, and that ill-advised adventure cost thousands of young American lives, thousands more wounded, a hell of a lot of money, and an unknown number of Iraqi civilians dead including women and children.

   Except for watching the least biased and most objective national and world TV news we can find these days (often PBS), Naomi and I are Netflix addicts. There’s a documentary that caught our attention. Movie maker Oliver Stone directed and narrated “The Untold History of the United States” and it’s enlightening.

   What were the true factors that conspired to plunge the world into two great wars? What were the real and shifting motives of the major leaders throughout those horrendous conflicts? Who was Henry Wallace and what impact did he have on our world? What surprising big businesses benefited by selling to both enemy and ally? Was it necessary to drop two nuclear bombs on civilian Japanese targets? We’ve been led to believe it saved thousands of American lives, and we want to believe that, but it simply is not true. What sort of machinations went on offstage during the protracted and senseless Vietnam War and the fifty-year cold war?

   How often have widely accepted historical narratives been at odds with the truth?

   All too often, I think.

   But thanks to such documentaries and to many courageous writers of both fiction and nonfiction down through the centuries, we do get corrective glimpses of truth. We need to be perceptive enough to recognize them.
             “There is nothing more deceptive than an obvious fact.” —Arthur Conan Doyle

See the new novel Killing Ground on Amazon in print or Kindle.

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