, Newburyport, MA


January 7, 2013

One hundred years of attitude

To the editor:

The New Year’s Day letter, “Not so happy new year to America,” illustrates my New Year’s Eve column, “Before we bid 2012 farewell,” well enough to be a case study for how unchecked websites distort history.

The letter points to 1913 as the year of “the great betrayal” in America without ever specifying “what was done to us.” Instead, we are invited to “go back and look.”

Since 1913 marked the height of America’s Progressive Era, those who know history might wonder what was wrong with stopping things such as the exploitation of immigrants and child labor.

However, the writer assumes we are unaware of this, expects us to simply type “1913 America” into a search engine and believe what comes up.

Always coming up first are “trending” links — which these days are always rabid, extremist websites dedicated to the privatization of anything that can possibly turn a profit, all public consequence be damned.

Here are the first three sites for “1913 America” with the titles of their featured essays:

1 — American Thinker: “1913 Was a Very Bad Year.”

2 — Scragged: “America’s Worst Year.”

3 — Life Without Limits: “How America Lost Its Independence in 1913.”

These harp on the 16th Amendment (authorizing the income tax) and the establishment of the Federal Reserve, which are what the letter writer no doubt has in mind.

Correction: They harp on resulting “damage” without ever mentioning reasons for either one — such as living and working conditions faced by millions of people most of us now call grandparents and great-grandparents.

For that we have books:

From Jacob Riis’ 1890 “How the Other Half Lives: Studies among the Tenements of New York,” the book that shook Teddy Roosevelt into a life-long effort that earned his place on Mt. Rushmore.

To Vincent J. Cannato’s 2009 “American Passage: The History of Ellis Island,” a book that might shake anyone today into a commitment to know American history.

As opposed to, say, clicking into the paranoid cynicism of “go back and look.”

Jack Garvey

Plum Island

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