Attempting to destroy the reputations of honorable men is nothing new. Usually, there are motives. The above links suggest anti-Catholic, left-wing political motives for the slander of Pius XII, and a personal vendetta by a discredited journalist for the accusation of racism against baseball Hall of Famer Ty Cobb.
Pius XII’s defenders, both Catholic and Jewish, have been numerous and effective in helping to re-build his reputation, despite the continued onslaught from usually former liberal Catholics and their supporters in the media eager to push their revisionist history. Still, people tend to believe what they want to, and the myth of Pius’ silence and inaction in the face of the Holocaust is just too rich a mine to harvest for any anti-Catholic bigot worthy of the name.
I had bought in to the accusation of racism and misanthropy against Ty Cobb, if only because it was the only story being told. Unlike Pius, who has had defenders since the first false accusations were made against him back in the early 1960s, Cobb as racist and jerk was the accepted narrative. Cobb had no defenders. Even Ken Burns 1990s documentary Baseball confirmed what everyone knew about Cobb. Now, Charles Leerhsen, publishing the first biography of Cobb in decades, Ty Cobb: A Terrible Beauty, rebuts the legend.
The writers and producers of Churchill are apparently unconcerned that their story has little connection with actual events or with the life and actions of the man himself. More dedicated to making an interesting (read: “profitable”) movie, the Winston Churchill of this film is no more than a caricature of the real man, a foil for telling what they think will be a captivating take on a massively important story. Churchill and his wife, Clementine, had an exceptionally happy marriage. No matter. In this movie, she’s had enough of him and threatens to leave. Churchill was universally respected among the allies and the most powerful man in Europe at the time. No matter. In this movie, Eisenhower yells at Churchill as if shouting down a mad man and Montgomery calls him a “bastard” to his face. Churchill was fully involved in all high-level decisions and enthusiastic in his support of Operation Overlord. No matter. In this movie, he’s kept in the dark until the very end and opposes the Normandy invasion.
Like the internet phenomenon of pseudo-scholars who try to sow seeds of doubt about the existence of Jesus, these efforts at revisionist biographies intent on destroying the reputations of good men who did great things is perverse. That perversion is exacerbated by the fact that they are too often successful in convincing the gullible, lazy, and eager.
Why does this matter? There are several reasons. If we get history wrong, we will never learn from it, and the biggest reason for learning history is to learn from history. We not only learn what worked and what didn’t work for those facing similar circumstances, we also learn a great deal about ourselves. But, if we can’t count on those who teach us the story of the past to give us an accurate account, then we won’t get an accurate picture of them, and so we won’t have an accurate picture of ourselves, either, for they are who we come from.
Finally, though, it’s a matter of justice. All men and women deserve an accurate accounting of their stories. Yes, there will be varying perspectives. But, that Pius XII acted and succeeded in saving the lives of hundreds of thousands of Jews during the war years is a fact of history. That Ty Cobb got in a tussle with a white manager rather than stabbing a black waiter is a matter of fact. That Winston Churchill’s leadership was one of the greatest assets of the Allied cause during World War II is undisputed by those who know anything about the history of that great and terrible conflict. These men, like all others, have a right to have the truth about them told.
Be Christ for all. Bring Christ to all. See Christ in all.
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This can also be observed in the culture at large. For example, anyone who voted for Trump (however reluctantly) is a racist, anyone who upholds traditional marriage (one man and one woman) is homophobic and discriminatory. There is no honest dialogue because we are not allowed to define our own convictions. Those who disagree with us insist on defining and marginalizing us before we can open our mouth. “A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on.” – Winston Churchill
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