Gulag, Western Style

There are various ways of quashing social and political dissent, some more effective than others. The “Soviet method” practiced in stringently repressive regimes—torture, imprisonment, the ever-expanding Gulag, summary execution—works extremely well in the shorter historical timeframe, until a people rise up in revolt or such demonic societies collapse from their own internal contradictions. Of course, the truly Stygian regimes, closed to the world, indifferent to economic pressures, and under the heavy boot of unbroken military control, such as North Korea, may persist indefinitely or until defeated in war. But generally speaking, the tried-and-true methods of political oppression are sufficient to the task of keeping a population in a state of enslavement for a prolonged historical period.

In the sphere of the liberal West, however, there are other means of subjection to the will of increasingly centralized governments. Because they tend to function gradually and under the radar, these tactics are enormously efficient in their deadening effects, going unrecognized until it is often too late to mount significant resistance. They operate through a process of curricular distortions, social pressure and incremental legislation targeting speech habits, facets of normal behavior, assumptions of what counts as morally legitimate, and financial and job security.

A useful technique for anaesthetizing the individual citizen and rendering him compliant is the erasure of authentic historical knowledge. We’ve remarked the success of this approach in the U.S. with the “history from below” or “people’s history” movement, associated with Howard Zinn, and the foregrounding of a bowdlerized version of Islamic history in American schools. Canada is no different. Eric McGeer, author of Words of Valediction and Remembrance: Canadian Epitaphs of the Second World War, writes: “In my last years of high school teaching I was increasingly infuriated and disgusted at the portrayal of Canada in the history textbooks assigned for use in our courses. There was no sense of gratitude in the textbooks, no empathy with the people of the past or an attempt to see them in their own terms, no sense of the effort people made to create one of the few truly liveable societies on earth. You would have thought that this country was nothing more than a racist, bigoted, this or that-phobic hotbed. My first lesson involved taking the book and dropping it into the waste paper basket and advising the students to do the same.” (personal communication). The study of history, McGeer concludes, is nothing now but a progressive morality tale and a mechanism of social engineering. Sounds a lot like Title IX. Pride in one’s nation, its accomplishments and sacrifices, is contra-indicated. There is more than one way of burning the flag.