Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Fake History

I ran across some "fake history" the other day.

On the Fourth of July, I was breezing through my Facebook feed when I ran across a post about "the inspiring story about the writing of The Star Spangled Banner".

I clicked on the post because I am an American History nerd and I've seen the actual flag that inspired the song.

Back in 1998, I took my then seven-year-old son to Washington, D.C. for vacation. We went to The White House, The Jefferson Memorial, The Lincoln Memorial, Arlington National Cemetary, Ford's Theater, Capitol Hill, and The Smithsonian Museums.  If you have never been to D.C., you really have to go even though it is a city (to quote President Kennedy) of  "Northern hospitality and Southern efficiency."

At The Smithsonian National Museum of American History, we saw the flag that flew over Fort McHenry.

Wow.  That's the only word that came to my mind. I was looking at the flag which caused Francis Scott Key to say: "And the rockets' red glare, the bombs bursting in air, gave proof thro' the night that our flag was still there".

The Facebook post linked to a Youtube clip which had an Evangelical pastor giving a sermon about "The Star Spangled Banner".

The only problem? Most of it wasn't true.

To be fair, he did correctly name Francis Scott Key as the writer of "The Star Spangled Banner".


The preacher confused The War of 1812 with The Revolutionary War. He referred to The United States as "colonies", which they were not. He called Fort McHenry, "Fort Henry".  He said the British wanted to destroy the fort (wrong).  He said the British had hundreds of ships in the harbor (they had eight or nine).

An article from the Patheos website says:

"One part of .... (the) account almost seems to confuse the bombing of Fort McHenry with the U.S. Marines' attack on Iwo Jima during World War II. He described soldiers trying to hold up the American flag in the midst of the British bombardment with "patriots' bodies" piled up around the flagpole. This makes for a great image, but in reality only about five soldiers died in the attack and we have no evidence of such a flag-raising."

After the YouTube clip was over, I told my wife that almost none of this was true and I even whipped out my Kennesaw State University degree to prove it. However, a LOT of people who commented on it bought it hook, line, and sinker.

Here's some more history. This YouTube clip was made in 2011. Almost immediately, there was controversy about it and the pastor apologized for the story and admitted he used the story without checking the accuracy. And people are still sharing it.

Here's my handy guide for dealing with Fake History. This can be used with "Fake News", too.

*While it is true, to an extent, that "history is written by the winners", there are certain facts in history.  History says Abraham Lincoln was the 16th President of United States. It is not an "opinion". It is a fact.  If someone misstates a fact, chances are a lot of what else will be said will not be right. For example, if someone doesn't know the difference between The Revolutionary War and The War of 1812, well, he might not know what he is talking about.

*Understand everybody has an agenda. Historians, news people, Presidents-everybody has an agenda.  Today, on social media, the most important thing are  "clicks" (i.e.: how many people "clicked" on a post). The more clicks, the better for the website.   Sometimes the search for truth loses out to the search for clicks. When this particular YouTube clip was released in 2011, it had 1.7 million clicks.

*Research it yourself. Learn which sites are reliable and which are not. I can tell you anything associated with Info Wars should be looked at suspiciously. The same goes for Vox and a bunch of other sites.

*Always be willing to admit when you were wrong. This YouTube clip was made six years ago and people are still playing it. The Pastor has admitted his mistake. Most people nowadays won't do this.

*Finally, admit that the dummies who majored in History come in handy sometimes.  Okay, you don't have to do that, but it would be nice. Francis Scott Key thinks so too.

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