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June 30, 2003
Vol. 1, No. 60




Pat Morrison Revisioning Bush's 'revisionist history'

Pat Morrison, NCR managing editor

President George W. Bush is well known for his malapropisms, some of them particularly unique. But more worrisome than an occasional slip of the presidential tongue is the appearance of new terminology in the Bush vocabulary, usage that some observers point out is much more than mere spin.

At least one author -- Mark Crispin Miller in The Bush Dyslexicon: Observations on a National Disorder -- theorizes that Bush's malaprops are born out of a rather frightening political and world view. The new expression seems to support that.

The latest Bushism, though not original to the president by any means, made its debut in the presidential lexicon on June 16. Speaking to New Jersey business executives about the Iraq war and effort to oust Saddam Hussein, Bush said, "Now, there are some who would like to rewrite history -- revisionist historians is what I like to call them." Before Bush adopted the expression, "revisionist history," security adviser Condoleeza Rice used it several times in recent interviews with broadcasters.

Basically, Bush is attempting to tell the American people, and whoever else may be listening, that those who opposed his administration's actions in Iraq -- the decision to take out the leader of a sovereign nation, to lead an invasion against that country -- because there was insufficient cause to go to war, are now rewriting history. According to Bush, his critics (those "revisionist historians") are saying, that the United States never had sufficient or accurate pre-war intelligence to substantiate that Saddam Hussein was hiding weapons of mass destruction. Bush, of course, contends that he had the facts.

Under a previous Democratic administration, Americans snickered at the suggestion made by the White House that opposition was the result of a "vast, right-wing conspiracy." Today the conspiracy theories have been supplanted by Bush's accusation that all who disagree with him are rewriting history books.

One wonders if the president and his handlers are aware of how loaded that expression is, and how it came to prominence. (One also has to wonder: How could these ultra-savvy PR masters not know?) Lately, "revisionist history" is being quite loosely bandied about, in various venues. But the term really came to prominence with the emergence after World War II of "Holocaust deniers," primarily David Irving in the United Kingdom and Ernst Zundel in North America. Their "scholarship" was revisionist history that denied 6 million Jews died in Nazi extermination camps. These revisionist "historians" argue that far fewer Jews died than history books teach; in fact, they claim the inflated numbers were a Jewish plot to justify the establishment of the state of Israel. Obviously, there have been others: revisionists who claim that slavery in the United States was vastly blown out of proportion or that blacks wanted slavery and resisted efforts to end it, revisionist theologians who suggest that the existence of Jesus Christ was a literary fabrication, and so on.

Some would argue that all history is to some extent revisionist, and that's true. Whenever people in one era attempt to reconstruct what went before, 20/20 hindsight is sure to produce some bias and slants in the historical record, even with the best of intentions.

But those who challenged U.S. intelligence or claim war in Iraq was a done deal even without the "facts on the ground" are hardly in the same category as those who denied the evidence that millions of people were massacred in the Holocaust. It's a pretty large leap, even for the empire-building Bush administration, to suggest that those who disagree with its action in Iraq are in the same league as the real "revisionist historians."

Pat Morrison is NCR managing editor. Her e-mail address is

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