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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016


Patriot Games

A small, weak country is being brutalized by an oppressive, colonizing power these days f tyrants who are airbrushing historical reality with a downright Stalinist glee, force-feeding their own distorted, self-aggrandizing view of the past down the throats of their terrorized subjects.

Yes, Hollywood's having a go at the Brits again!

First there was the blow of "U-571," which turned one of Britain's finest hours in World War II f a daring submarine mission to capture the key to Germany's secret codes f into a strictly all-American affair. Now the island is being swamped with a tidal wave of PR for Mel Gibson's latest he-man tub-thumper, "The Patriot." Critics and historians are livid at the movie's portrayal of King George's army as the equivalent of the murderous Nazi SS.

And it's no metaphorical equivalence. As Salon's Jonathan Foreman points out, among the many completely ahistorical atrocities committed by the film's redcoats, the centerpiece f the burning alive of colonial women and children in a locked church f was lifted directly from one of the most heinous single Nazi depredations of World War II: the massacre of 642 civilians locked in a church in the French village of Oradour.

The only problem is, nothing like this ever happened in the war, say historians f including American historians. "Of course it never happened," says Richard Snow, editor of American Heritage magazine. "If it had, do you think Americans would have forgotten it? It could have kept us out of World War I."

British historians, as you might imagine, were even less impressed with the film's accuracy and implications. Historian Andrew Roberts put it this way: "With their own record of killing 12 million American Indians and supporting slavery for four decades after the British abolished it, Americans wish to project their historical guilt onto someone else."

Another somewhat curious twist to the film, which proudly proclaims its "historical accuracy" in all the weaponry and costumery it employs, is the fact that this paean to the great struggle to win American political independence is so singularly lacking in, well, politics. Mel's manly main character is depicted as an apolitical family man. "What's worse?" he asks. "The tyranny of one man 3,000 miles away, or 3,000 men one mile away?"

No incipient democrat, he. In fact, he only takes up arms when the dastardly British shoot his son. Thus, as Foreman points out, the film is not really about the American Revolution at all. It's a good old-fashioned Teutonic blood-revenge saga, complete with a berserker warrior-hero hacking down his subhuman foes. (Sort of a "Beowulf in Boston" kind of thing.)

One other revealing inaccuracy: Mel is depicted as a Southern plantation owner f and yet he has no slaves. There are a few slaves (belonging to less-enlightened aristocrats) in the film, but this in no way dilutes the moral absoluteness of "The Patriot's" uber-goodness: The chattels are all of the "happy darkies who fight cheerfully for their masters" variety, last seen to such heartwarming effect in "Gone With the Wind."

Next up: Mel Gibson leads a rag-tag bunch of plucky Kansas farmboys to victory over the evil forces of General Montgomery in the new multimillion-dollar epic, "London's Burning."

Phantom Menace

But of course, the perpetration of revisionist jingoism for fun and profit is hardly confined to Hollywood. In fact, the recent July 4th holiday saw a spate of patriotic spume spurting from the nation's punditry. But close observers noted a remarkable degree of uniformity among the commentariat, even greater than the usual mindless, lockstep, intellectually flatulent conformity of that timorous tribe.

It seems that a number of commentators commentated on the tragic fates that ultimately befell so many of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, including being killed f in battle or by torture f at the hands of the, you guessed it, evil Brits. Other signers, we are told, ended up in poverty and obscurity, ignored by an ungrateful nation gone rotten with liberalism, Medicare, evolution, fluoride and lesbians on television. But the strange sameness emanating from these effusions f curious coincidences of phrasing and structure f became clear when Slate Magazine uncovered their common source: an anonymous e-mail.

Yes, it was that Drudgey source of pseudo-fact, the Internet, that provided pundits like Jeff Jacoby of The Boston Globe with material to fill the yawning maw of their editorial holes. The only trouble is, Jacoby passed off the piece of websurfing driftwood as the product of his own diligent research. And what's more, it turns out that most of the "facts" in the virus-like missive are, in fact, false. None of them were killed in battle. Two were wounded f but, unaccountably, were not then tortured, executed or even burned alive in a church by the British. And some of those whose obscure fates were lamented by the columnists actually ended their days as governors, chief justices and prosperous businessmen.

By week's end, Jacoby had been given a four-month suspension by The Globe for his lack of candor on sources. And a furious search was on to find the provenance of the patriotic piece, which has found its way into many a journalistic jeremiad and political stump speech over the years. Some said it originated in a 1956 book by radio commentator Paul Harvey and has since been circulating anonymously. Bloated right-wing radio gasbag Rush Limbaugh claimed that his father had written the original piece back in the 1940s. (And it is, of course, tres Limbaugh to proudly embrace the propagation of deliberate political falsehood.)

Next up: Mel Gibson as George Washington, the plucky apolitical farmer who signed the Declaration of Independence and got burned alive in a church then ended his days in obscurity before becoming the first President of the United States after beating Winston Churchill in aerial combat at the battle of Gettysburg.

It'll make millions!