Magazine article Insight on the News

Revisionist Historians Have Political Agenda

Magazine article Insight on the News

Revisionist Historians Have Political Agenda

Article excerpt

Change is the iron law of the universe, it's said. For Americans, change historically has signified "the West" - the West, that is, initially starting a dozen paces beyond Plymouth Rock and Jamestown, progressing to the Pacific littoral of alfalfa-sprout pizzas and all-purpose angst.

Indeed, transformation of everything from the land to institutions to personal style has defined this culture - and most of us would cheer rather than complain.

Although the frontier, according to Frederick Jackson Turner, had vanished by 1890, the tide of change inexorably continues - and conspicuously so out West. "A pickup truck hit a polo pony here last week" a New York Times story, datelined Jackson, Wyo., engagingly began.

The theme of the article was that a combination of accelerating tourism and big money is overwhelming what is thought of as the "real" West - ranching, logging, mining and the intimacy of small communities.

Teton County, Wyo., trying to dam the flood, recently increased lot sizes for new homes from three to 35 acres. "Taking aim at trophy homes - log and field-stone cathedrals with elk antler chandeliers - the county [also] limited the size of new single-family homes to 8,500 square feet" the Times reported - a cap well within the baronial range.

With 97 percent of land in that county locked up by the feds, one developer said he was building $5 million homes on spec for corporate hot-shots, movie stars and entertainment moguls who like to rough it away from urban amenities. It was in one of these cottages that the Clintons took their R&R.

Polo ponies in harms way of pickups, as metaphor, is not new out West, of course, though its now a quantitative more than qualitative problem. Generations of Montanans, for instance, grew up growling about Eastern nabobs who'd extracted and exported billions in gold, silver and copper.

But even as upscale colonization engulfs the Rocky Mountain states, the popular culture continues to cherish the lore of the Old West: The tales of bold explorers and brave pioneers who endured incredible hardship and the hostility of indigenous peoples (that's an approved term).

Those images are embedded in the American mind and have historical validity. They've also fallen severely out of favor, however, particularly among the professoriat and media camp-followers.

A new tribe of revisionist historians is riding hell for leather to demolish what they please to call myths (its useful to recall that a "myth" may be true in general if false in some particulars). …

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