Oftentimes the past is relegated to, well, the past. It is argued that it offers little value to the present. And, then, when it is used as a case study to explain the present, historians regularly shake their heads at its misapplications and misunderstandings.
Today, I offer a simple post about why history is important and why it’s necessary to get the details down correctly. I offer this via the Disney movie, The Lion King.
If you recall, the crisis in the movie is caused by sinister Scar, king Mufasa’s brother. Mufasa’s heir, his son Simba, is brought to a narrow ravine and told to wait for a surprise by his Uncle Scar. In the meanwhile, Scar’s outlaw hyenas stir up a stampede that cascades into the ravine threatening to trample the crown lion cub to death. Scar, ever so helpfully, alerts Mufasa to his son’s impending doom. Once Mufasa gallantly saves his progeny, he seeks to escape the stampede’s melee by climbing the walls of the ravine to safety. As he struggles up the rock face, Scar, instead of helping his brother, sends him tumbling back into the ravine, to his death. He convinces cub Simba that he is responsible for the death of his father and drives him away. Without the king or his heir, the throne falls to Scar.
What does this have to do with history or history education? No one could contest Scar’s claim because the only story they had–that an accident had killed both of Scar’s leonine rivals–supported his succession. Because, in other words, he controlled the history, he controlled the throne, but should the truth be revealed–as it ultimately was–his claim to the throne would evaporate. Furthermore, the impressionable young Simba, an innocent cub mistakenly trusting his uncle, was also fed a falsehood that directed and dominated his life until the movie’s climax.
History can be a dangerous weapon when it is controlled by the seat of power. It can be a dangerous propaganda tool that is fed to youth so they will already be programmed by the time they come of age. It is notoriously misused to subjugate populations or isolated groups. There are literally thousands of examples in the 20th century alone. Without the historical record being corrected, the movie could not earn its happy ending. So, it often is in real life power struggles.