castaneda74_John McDonnellThe Washington Post via Getty Images_USstatueremoval John McDonnell/The Washington Post via Getty Images

The History Behind America’s History Wars

When history becomes worth fighting over, it begins to exist. And, crucially, the fight is now occurring in the mainstream of American media, politics, and culture, rather than on the fringes of academia, as in the past.

MEXICO CITY – Henry James once reportedly said, “If you scrape Europe, you will find history. If you scrape the United States, you will find geography.” This lack of a shared sense of history in America is on stark display today in the protests over deep-rooted racial injustice and debates over the removal of Confederate monuments and names honoring racist political leaders.

Compared to others, Americans’ shared history is very short. Those who colonized – and later immigrated to – North America had a variety of motives, whether religious, political, or economic. But in virtually every case, they were fleeing their past.

When they arrived in the New World, the settlers did not latch onto an indigenous history or culture. Native Americans were nomadic, unstructured, and isolated, and had scant contact with the English or Dutch settlers, who established their own colonies on the lands they appropriated and effectively hit the “reset” button on their history.

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