What About History?

What about whataboutism? This new and misleading term now appearing in social media posts usually about the war between Russia and Ukraine is an attempt to deny the role history plays in current events. In essence, those who use this term to dismiss critiques of the war they disagree with are promoting an ahistorical approach that pretends that in the discussion of the war history began with the February 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine. When one takes this approach, they can pretend that nazism is not a factor in the Ukrainian government, that NATO was not created to provide a military force to enhance Washington’s post World War Two push for market hegemony, and that it is not the US military that is the most murderous since the end of World War Two. Furthermore, the use of this term is quite often effective in shutting down any attempt by those opposed to the war to explain the whys and wherefores of their opposition.

Denying history has its uses. In Israel, the denial of history gives the rulers in Tel Aviv the rationale to steal land from those who have possessed it for centuries. Likewise, the Israeli denial of Palestinian history provides its military and its settlers a rationale for their brutality and arrogance. In the United States, the denial of history can take a variety of forms. It can be as openly racist as a politician like Florida Governor Ron DeSantis banning books discussing the history of slavery in the US; it can also be as brutal as a white cop kneeling on George Floyd’s neck until he dies or another white cop shooting a Black man in the back of the head after tackling him during an unwarranted traffic stop. Denying history in the United States can also mean putting a Black man or woman in a position of power while at the same time rejecting legislation that could begin to resolve the economic inequality experienced especially by non-white people that is the legacy of a white supremacist past. In Britain, denying history is what gives people the idea that Winston Churchill was a great man of war and peace and not the racist mass murderer history proves he was.

To read this article, log in here or subscribe here.
If you are logged in but can't read CP+ articles, check the status of your access here
In order to read CP+ articles, your web browser must be set to accept cookies.

Ron Jacobs is the author of Daydream Sunset: Sixties Counterculture in the Seventies published by CounterPunch Books. He has a new book, titled Nowhere Land: Journeys Through a Broken Nation coming out in Spring 2024.   He lives in Vermont. He can be reached at: ronj1955@gmail.com

CounterPunch Magazine Archive

Read over 400 magazine and newsletter back issues here

Support CounterPunch

Make a tax-deductible monthly or one-time donation and enjoy access to CP+.  Donate Now

Support our evolving Subscribe Area and enjoy access to all Subscribers content.  Subscribe