In light of a series of blunders, errors, mistakes and downright lies about history, one has to wonder about Barack Obama's grasp of the historical narrative that should inform many of his decisions as leader of the free world. He doesn't seem to have that information.
An early indication is the initial selection of location for a speech in Germany of the Brandenburg Gate which Angela Merkel found odd, her spokesman saying that she has "little sympathy for the Brandenburg Gate being used for electioneering and has expressed her doubts about the idea."
In response, Obama moved the venue to the Siegessäule monument. The problem with this site was that "Not only does the site contain a monument to Prussian victories over other American allies in Europe, its placement was decided by Adolf Hitler — in order to impress crowds in his idealized version of Berlin called 'Germania'."
During his "historic" speech to the Muslim world in June, Obama "described Islam as having a tradition of tolerance, saying: 'We see it in the history of Andalusia and Cordoba during the Inquisition.'"
Not so fast. According to the daily El Pais, "the peak of the Andalusian civilization, with Cordoba as the cultural beacon of Europe, occurred in the 10th century, long before the Spanish Inquisition was founded in 1478 during the Christian reconquest of the country from Muslims."
Even with regard to his own office, Obama missed the mark during his inaugural address when he said he was the 44th American to have taken the oath. McClatchy set him straight on that one, explaining that "Grover Cleveland served two non-consecutive terms. He is counted as the 22nd president, serving from 1885 to 1889. He won back the office four years later, and is counted also as the 24th president, serving again from 1893-1897. Two presidents - but one American."
We're all familiar with his misstatement regarding his uncle who helped liberate Auschwitz, which he later corrected to say that "his great uncle was a member of the 89th Infantry Division that liberated the Ohrduf camp, part of Buchenwald."
In April of this year, Obama quoted Winston Churchill as saying that "We don't torture!" and went on to explain what he thought was in Churchill's heart when he said that. Obama said "And then the reason was that Churchill understood, you start taking short-cuts, over time, that corrodes what's -- what's best in a people. It corrodes the character of a country." How Obama knows what Churchill was actually thinking is beyond me (especially since I don't think Obama reads much history), but Time pointed out that "Churchill may well have said that Britain did not torture, but British archives show clearly that captured Nazis were subjected to harsh treatment in order to extract information during World War II."
Did Obama know about that? Or was he just overlooking that part because it didn't fit his narrative?
Consider Obama's campaign speech in a Selma church. He said that it was because of the civil rights marchers of 1965 that his parents felt their inter-racial marriage could happen. But he was born in 1961. He said later that he meant the whole civil rights movement, but that's not what he said in Selma. It didn't fit the narrative.
How about this week when he told Apollo 11 astronauts Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins and Edwin Buzz Aldrin, "I grew up in Hawaii, as many of you know, and I still recall sitting on my grandfather's shoulders when those capsules would land in the middle of the Pacific and they'd get brought back and we'd go out and we'd pretend like they could see us as we were waving at folks coming home. And I remember waving American flags and my grandfather telling me that the Apollo mission was an example of how Americans can do anything they put their minds to."
One problem. He says he lived in Indonesia from 1969 to 1971. The Apollo program ended in 1972. He didn't move to Hawaii until he was 10. Could he have seen Apollo splashdowns in the Pacific from Indonesia? I suppose he could have been visiting Hawaii at the time, but, that's dicey.
Consider also this quote from Obama yesterday: “I'm always worried about using the word ‘victory,’ because, you know, it invokes this notion of Emperor Hirohito coming down and signing a surrender to MacArthur.” As Rachel Abrams at The Weekly Standard pointed out, Japanese foreign affairs minister Mamoru Shigemitsu signed the surrender and General Richard Sutherland watched him sign. MacArthur wasn't there. Neither was Hirohito. The devil is in the details.
Liz Cheney recently pointed to another historical error. In Moscow, Obama said this:
"The American and Soviet armies were still massed in Europe, trained and ready to fight. The ideological trenches of the last century were roughly in place. Competition in everything from astrophysics to athletics was treated as a zero-sum game. If one person won, then the other person had to lose. And then within a few short years, the world as it was ceased to be. Make no mistake: This change did not come from any one nation. The Cold War reached a conclusion because of the actions of many nations over many years, and because the people of Russia and Eastern Europe stood up and decided that its end would be peaceful."
Cheney points out that the KGB was brutal, there were no freedoms, and that the Cold War was NOT "about competition in astrophysics and athletics." She says "The Cold War ended not because the Soviets decided it should but because they were no match for the forces of freedom and the commitment of free nations to defend liberty and defeat Communism."
In June, CNN estimated Obama's reading pace to be ten books per year as opposed to the voracious reading schedule of George W. Bush who routinely read over 100 books a year. Of course, as I noted in December, when Bush read books, he wasn't considered to be using his time well, while when Obama reads, he is "erudite" and "literary."
I suggest that Obama take a lead from Bush and Rove and spend more time reading. A look at his reading list is heavy on fiction (NTTAWTT), The Autobiography of Malcolm X, Nietzsche, A Kind And Just Parent by Bill Ayers, Parting the Waters about the civil rights movement, and The Post-American World.
Can we chip in and get him a membership to the History Book Club?
Update: Yukio corrects me (and Rachel Abrams) in the comments: "Actually MacArthur was at the Japanese surrender aboard the Missouri (he's not in that picture at the Weekly Standard, but MacArthur was there along with a number of American - and allied - generals and admirals including Nimitz, Sutherland, and Halsey). Hirohito was not among the Japanese delegation. MacArthur was one of the signatories and made two rather moving speeches at the spot."
Thanks Yukio! :)