Be Skeptical

Be Skeptical
© December 6, 2016, John LaBatte

Skeptic – “a person who questions or doubts something (such as a claim or statement)”

To date, I have reviewed more than 300 products related to Dakota/White history. These include essays, speeches, websites, exhibits, signs, audio-visual and books. I can definitely conclude that there is much incorrect, unbalanced and disrespectful information out there on this history.

Why is this happening? Read on.I began research on my family history many years ago. As I dug deeper into their history and the events surrounding them, I saw many mistakes. I wrote letters. I tried to influence text in exhibits and on signs, but no one cared. About 5 years ago, I came across this quote by Cicero:

“The first law for the historian is that he shall never dare utter an untruth. The second is that he shall suppress nothing that is true. Moreover, there shall be no suspicion of partiality in his writing, or of malice.” (Marcus Tullius Cicero, De Oratore, II.XV.62)

Cicero is saying that history should be correct, balanced and respectful. I decided to use this as my theme and started this blog four years ago this month.

My Reviews

In my reviews, I call a statement incorrect if:

  • The statement is wrong
  • The statement is incomplete
  • The statement cannot be proven
  • The statement does not apply to all members of the group

I call a statement unbalanced if:

  • The statement gives information about one group while corresponding information is not given for other groups involved.
  • The statement gives only one side of an issue.

I call a statement disrespectful if:

  • The statement criticizes people without showing proof.

Facts

Fact – “something that truly exists or happens; something that has actual existence; a true piece of information”

Wouldn’t it be nice if this history was factual? Unfortunately, much of this history is not based on facts for the following reasons:

  • Mistakes
  • Allegations
  • Generalities
  • Opinions
  • Exaggerations
  • Agendas

Mistakes

Mistake – “to understand (something or someone) incorrectly; to make a wrong judgment about (something); to identify (someone or something) incorrectly”

To err is human…People make mistakes. They transpose numbers and words. They misinterpret facts. Punctuation, grammar and spelling errors certainly are not intended.

The biggest mistake I see is that incompetent people produce products related to this history. They lack the essential knowledge. This history is complicated. To approach the truth, you must do the research and then do more research.

Allegations

Allegation – “a statement saying that someone has done something wrong or illegal; an assertion unsupported and by implication regarded as unsupportable”

I see many allegations in these products. As the definition states, the allegation is not supported [by fact]. To detect an allegation, watch for charges of wrong or illegal actions against an individual or a group of people. Do not accept criticism of anyone unless proof is given. Examples of allegations:

“The fur traders cheated the Indians.”

  • Three of my ancestors were fur traders; one for most of his life. Many products claim that the fur traders cheated the Indians but little proof is shown. I have asked authors to name the fur traders and show the proof, but they do not reply because this is not possible.

“Present day New Ulm is anti-Indian.”

  • I have lived in New Ulm for about 14 years. I have never heard anyone make an anti-Indian statement. This statement is incorrect.

Generalities

Generality – “a statement that is not specific or detailed”

I see many generalities. Allegations and opinions can be generalities. Not all generalities are incorrect. However, it is difficult to make a general statement that is always correct about all persons in that group. Examples of generalities:

“Neither side understood each other. Neither side wanted to understand each other. This clash of cultures was the primary cause of the Dakota War in 1862.”

  • These generalities look factual, but they are not facts.
  • The first sentence is incorrect. To say that all Dakota and all Whites did not understand each other cannot be proven. The Dakota/White mixed-bloods certainly understood both sides.
  • The second sentence is absolutely incorrect. There were many examples of Dakota and Whites who wanted to learn about each other. I will say more about this in the next essay.
  • The third sentence is absolutely incorrect. I can find no primary sources that say this was the primary cause of the Dakota War in 1862.

Opinions

Opinion – “a belief, judgment, or way of thinking about something; what someone thinks about a particular thing”

Unless a person starts with “In my opinion…”, these statements are difficult to detect. Not all opinions are incorrect. However, unless proof is given, opinions should not be treated as facts.

Exaggerations

Exaggerate – “to enlarge beyond bounds or the truth”

The truth is sad enough; it does not need to be exaggerated. Examples of exaggerations:

“In 1862, 1700 Dakota women and children were force-marched 150 miles to a concentration camp at Fort Snelling where 300 died from starvation, malnutrition and starvation.” There are 7 exaggerations in this sentence:

  • The actual number was a few more than 1600
  • This group also contained elderly men and young men.
  • They were not force-marched
  • The actual distance from the Lower Sioux Agency to Fort Snelling was about 110 miles.
  • The Fort Snelling camp was not similar to the Nazi death and work camps as some say.
  • The actual U.S. Army count of deaths was 102.
  • It cannot be proven that anyone died from starvation and malnutrition.

Agendas

Agenda – “an underlying often ideological plan or program”

Many speakers and authors have personal agendas. To some, their personal agenda is more important to them than accurate, balanced and respectful history. They think it is okay to exaggerate to advance their agendas. Unfortunately, individuals and organizations trust these politicians as consultants.

My Findings

  • This history is complicated. Incompetent people should not write or speak about it.
  • Trusting secondary sources and failing to do enough research causes many incorrect statements.
  • The Minnesota Historical Society has many products on this history. Their products contain many incorrect, unbalanced and disrespectful statements. See my recent essay, “Historic Fort Ridgely – Visitor Beware” and my recent review of the Lac qui Parle Mission site. When I do an essay or review on an MHS product, I send it to people at MHS. I have received a few responses, but generally, MHS does not seem to care. Their standards are too low. When you see an MHS product, be skeptical.
  • Organizations interview descendants and publish these interviews without editing their content. Many incorrect opinions pass through as facts.
  • Many products ignore traditional Dakota warfare and the number of whites killed in the Dakota War of 1862.
  • The largest majority of unbalanced statements are made in favor of the Dakota Indians. For example, while many products discuss the Dakota after the Dakota War of 1862, very few products discuss the Whites after the war. My reviews are unbalanced because the products I am reviewing are unbalanced.
  • The largest majority of disrespectful statements are made about the Whites. According to many authors and speakers, the Whites did not do anything right.
  • Some people believe that a poor product is better than no product.
  • Some people say, “Prove I am wrong.” They think if they cannot be proven wrong, they do not have to prove they are right.
  • I sometimes hear that there is not enough space on an exhibit panel to develop a subject. I reply that if there is not enough space, do not mention the subject.
  • Some exhibit projects run out of time. This causes more mistakes.
  • As stated above, unless you are very knowledgeable about this history, mistakes, allegations, generalities, opinions, exaggerations and agendas are very difficult to detect. Do not believe everything you see and hear. Be skeptical.

Some Related Quotes

“History to be above dispute must be based on facts, not on opinion.” (T.S. Acton, British writer and historian)

“…for it is the true office of history to represent the events themselves together with the counsels, and to leave the observations and conclusions thereupon to the liberty and faculty of every man’s judgment.” (Bacon, Advancement of Learning, book 2.)

“The first law for the historian is that he shall never dare utter an untruth. The second is that he shall suppress nothing that is true. Moreover, there shall be no suspicion of partiality in his writing, or of malice.” (Marcus Tullius Cicero, De Oratore, II.XV.62)

“If you don’t tell the whole story, it is the same as lying.” (Benjamin Franklin)

“Half a truth is often a great lie.” (Benjamin Franklin)

“If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it. The lie can be maintained only for such time as the State can shield the people from the political, economic and/or military consequences of the lie. It thus becomes vitally important for the State to use all of its powers to repress dissent, for the truth is the mortal enemy of the lie, and thus by extension, the truth is the greatest enemy of the State.” (Joseph Goebbels – As one of Adolf Hitler’s closest associates and most devout followers, he was known for his zealous orations and visceral and homicidal anti-Semitism.)

Historian Thomas Hughes – His first goal was “a high standard of historical accuracy.” His 2nd goal was to “retain vital human interest.” “Impartiality and catholicity of spirit are of paramount importance, and freedom from prejudice is the best preventative against a reversal by posterity of the judgment of our time.”

“Beware the politician who claims to be a historian.” (John LaBatte)

“People will believe a big lie sooner than a little one, and if you repeat it frequently enough, people will sooner or later believe it.” (Walter Langer)

“History is not history unless it is the truth.” (Abraham Lincoln)

“The thing about quotes on the Internet is that it is difficult to confirm their validity.” (Abraham Lincoln)

“Everything changes but the truth.” (Clayton Moore – The Lone Ranger)

“…we owe it to those who died and suffered to tell the truth, and we owe it to future generations not to lie to them.” (Anton Treuer, Everything You Wanted to Know about Indians But Were Afraid to Ask, page 32)

“…for historians ought to be precise, faithful, and unprejudiced, and neither interest nor fear, hatred nor affection, should make them swerve from the way of truth, whose mother is history, the rival of time, the depositary of great actions, the witness of the past, example to the present, and monitor to the future. (Don Quixote, chapter 9)

“The dead are owed the truth.” (Feb 12, 2014 court trial)

“Remember the past—understand it—move on.” (New Ulm Journal Editorial)

Bibliography

All definitions come from the Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, Eleventh Edition

http://www.merriam-webster.com/shop-dictionaries/dictionaries/collegiate-dictionary-eleventh-edition

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