The US often accuses other countries of using revisionist history books. How accurate are our own?

The US sometimes makes a point of accusing other countries of promoting revisionist history by using history books in their primary and secondary schools that scrubs out their misdeeds. It seems the older I get the more and more history I discover was left out of the history books I read in the primary grades & high school school in the 60’s and 70’s. Especially stuff that was uncomplimentary to the US.

How accurate and complete are the current American history books used in our high schools? Are we more honest than other countries in how we present our own history to our students?

The answers will probably vary by region and era.

I grew up in New York City, and went to Catholic elementary and high schools from the mid-Sixties until the late Seventies. My experience was that textbooks were blatantly slanted to the Left. It’s one thing to take a “warts and all” approach to the United States, and quite another to pretend there were never anything BUT warts.

I can only assume (hope?) that they are better than they used to be. However, my experience as a kid in Catholic school using the last round of an history book published in 1948 (this in 1965) and bearing the full Imprimatur and Nihil Obstat, you may be less surprised that when i hit public high school I was surprised that non-Catholics also contributed to history, and not always as enemies.

When I was in high school (not so long ago) there was no mention of our Japanese concentration camps in California. I have heard that some teachers force their students to read books on the subject but I am sure we have also hidden some of our “smaller” indiscretions; much like German students aren’t taught about the Holocaust (according to a German exchange student I have had contact with). I would prefer not to know what has been done by our country. I don’t think that it would change much towards the way we behave or even the way we feel towards those we may have overlooked in the past. How would we repay those whom we have harmed? Forty acres and a mule is a long way off as it is. More guilt isn’t going to make the country happier. I know it isn’t a healthy view point to most, but I would prefer to stay in the dark.

That’s not slanted to the left, then.

I don’t have a good answer to your question off the top of my head, but I can direct you to an interesting book on the subject, Lies My Teacher Told Me, by James W. Loewen.

It surveys several popular high school American History textbooks (including the one used in my 11th grade history class) and evaluates their accuracy in several areas. It particularly concentrates on the textbooks’ treatment of race issues and early interactions with Native Americans.

The version I read might be out of date at this point, but Amazon says that there’s a new, updated edition.

Off the top of my head, kids were until very recently taught that Columbus discovered America while trying to prove the world wasn’t flat (I was taught this in elementary school in the '80s), and I would guess kids are still taught that we won the war of 1812, nothing about the Mexican/American war - even in the states we stole in that war - and blacks and Mexicans are still mostly left out entirely, though IIRC we did spend about 2 seconds on Buffalo Soldiers and George Washington Carver in high school.

Before I strike a match to this strawman, could you facilitate the discussion with a who-said-what example? Are you talking about Iran’s view of WWII or what?

For starters, I have to report on the very curious case of the Mexican-American war and other USA Military adventures in Central America.

In El Salvador the Mexican-American war was barely touched by the text books *; by contrast the failed attempt of William Walker (the American filibuster) of taking Central America was mentioned in detail in the textbooks at my Catholic School. They showed how a united people could deal with an invader.

The Mexican-American war was mentioned in the textbooks only in regards of the expansion of the USA and the battles in Texas; however, there was a very important item removed. The part were American troops invaded Mexico and conquered the capital city of Mexico, forcing the Mexicans into accepting the loss of Texas, New Mexico, Utah, Nevada, Arizona and California.

I thought before that the reason why that part was omitted (especially in Salvadorean history texts) was that many Latin American nations were allies of the US during WWII (Most were also allies during WWI) a past invasion by an ally was not a good thing to mention to the younger Latino generations (The actions of William Walker in Nicaragua were eventually denounced by the US government but this did not happen in the Mexico case. To add to his greatness, Lincoln (as a congressman) opposed the war.); however, as I learned how the catholic church and the Mexican elites sabotaged any proper response to the US invasion (General Santa Anna was hated by many Mexicans even during the war) it is clear that learning the details about the episode would cause the people in Latin America to get the very dangerous idea of disliking the elites of those nations even more.
In the USA the current American History books (At least in Arizona) do mention the Mexican-American war with even the conquest of Mexico City.

It would be interesting to see if in the recent past the history of the Mexican-American war was cleaned up even more.

In the current American history text book I have, the results of the Mexican-American war and its controversy in the USA were barely touched. William Walker and the controversy regarding his actions were not mentioned at all. Even though both military acts influenced and shaped the American Civil war that was coming.

  • This was confirmed even in a past generation of El Salvador, I found recently that my uncle (That graduated with honors and became very respected in his field) accused me of inventing tall tales that the US had conquered Mexico City during that war.

What? Really? If you’d asked me beforehand, I’d have said there was no way this was true, though I have no actual knowledge. I am really surprised.

And I completely missed Cisco’s reply that nothing was mentioned on the Mexican American war in the 80’s.

Cisco, did you finish high school in Arizona?

No, I moved here just before we met, actually. I guess I shouldn’t have spoken about currently, but the people I meet who are my age and grew up here didn’t learn about it. I don’t know how much time is spent on it because the [small sample group of] younger people don’t seem to know about it, either.

That is important IMO as in Arizona the Mexican American war can’t be ignored as it is one big reason why this state came into being. I would not be surprised that in northern and eastern states this war is not as important. Yet even here, I notice that many details are missing in text books at the high school level.

It’s very important IMO. Most people I meet don’t realize that we’re standing on land that the US stole by force just barely 150 years ago. Kind of makes you realize how fucked up those people are who get angry at the ubiquitous hispanic cultural influences around here.

I’d say there’s a difference between skimming/glossing over the “bad” parts, and out and out denying they happened.
To me, every country does the first to some extent (and in any case, it’d be impossible to devote enough time for every aspect of every historical event), and only the second would qualify as “revisionist history book”. ISTR there was a recent Japanese government issued WW2 textbook which said there was no evidence of Japanese war crimes or something like that, that would be what I consider a revisionist textbook.

I have a hard time believing that too. Nazi guilt is damn close to a religion in Germany these days.

Because the Spanish stole it fair and square first? There’s a lot of red inc(as) in that history book.

Mexico had gained independence from Spain by the time the Mexican American war took place. So I’m not sure what your point is.

My point is that the entire area was a brutal Spanish conquest to begin with. Bitching about getting conquered (in turn) is a bit of a pot/kettle name-calling contest.


The war was among countries that had gained independence from the brutal colonial powers.

Spain and England would have disagreed with you at the time. What’s relevant is one country landed on the moon 100 years later. Which group of people benefited more from which conquest?