As relations between the United States and the Soviet Union continue to decline, the old “Cold War mentality” is taking over the bureaucracy. The most blatant example to date came recently when the U.S. decided, in effect, that both sides should carry on telling lies about each other in school books.
For more than 50 years, intentionally or inadvertently, high-school history and social studies texts in the two countries have been noted more for their inaccuracy than for their scholarship. But two years ago, when détente was still a high-priority affair, teams of scholars from both nations joined in a “textbook study project.” The idea was to eliminate some of the mistakes. They swapped books, studied them, met several times and were scheduled to clinch the revision at a March meeting to be held in Racine, Wisconsin.
Now the state department has announced that no visas will be issued for the 16 Soviet scholars who were to attend. As a result, the project is off, for the foreseeable future anyway. “It’s ironic and a little sad,” said Professor Howard Mehlinger of Indiana University, who heads the U.S. team. “We were so close to completing our work and maybe helping each country understand the other a little better.”
The mistakes, which will now continue to be enshrined in the two countries’ education systems, range from the silly to the serious. The Soviets, for example, would like to see deleted a passage in a U.S.
high-school textbook that says Soviet cows, restricted on collective farms, produce less milk than capitalist Western cows. “It’s the most blatantly stupid thing I ever heard,” said Ohio State University geographer/demographer and U.S. team member George Demko. Soviet scholars also complain that U.S. textbooks refer to “Nikolai” Lenin, when his real name was Vladimir llich Ulyanov.
But not all mistakes are so trivial. A Soviet text about the Cuban missile crisis accuses the U.S. of pushing the world “to the brink of thermonuclear war.” Says Mehlinger: “In many ways the book is fac-
tually correct. The only thing missing is any mention of the Soviet missiles. Soviet students never learn what caused the whole affair.”
On the other side, the Soviets have objected that U.S. texts say very little about Soviet efforts during the Second World War. There is considerable attention to the Holocaust, but little or no mention of the fact that an estimated 20 million Soviet citizens lost their lives at the same time, nor more than a passing reference to the major battles that took place in the Soviet Union.
On the wilder shores of distortion, a Soviet text refers to an incident that may or may not have taken place back in the frontier days. It tells how some American settlers dropped smallpox-infected blankets near Indian settlements and concludes: “Thus by the 19th century the American military was already using methods of monstrous bacteriological warfare.”
If next month’s meeting had been allowed to take place, that and other triumphs of schoolroom propaganda might have disappeared in an agreed list of j changes. As it stands, the equally monstrous poisoning of young minds will continue. William Lowther
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