A Good Man’s History Lesson 



“The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” — William Faulkner

Patrick Cockburn concludes his article Britain Refuses to Accept How Terrorists Really Work with,

Contrary to conventional and governmental wisdom, terrorist conspiracies have not changed much since Brutus, Cassius and their friends plotted to murder Julius Caesar.

It made me think about how many people Caesar killed or enslaved in Gaul prior to his crossing the border back into Italy to take power in 49 B.C. And of the conditions in Rome’s tenements at the time, the rebellions, the bribery, the near-starvation during winters among laborers, the co-opting of immiserated, physically-depleted peasants’ energies, the assassinations of dissident politicians who dared to provide the poor with free grain, the proliferation of violence in general. The basis for generals taking over the whole potpourri on the peninsula.

What is never taught in schools which are devoted to preparing pupils to pass mandatory, disingenous tests devised by postmodern counterparts of the Roman powers that be. Be? Were, I mean, but who do still plague us in insidious ways which we also don’t learn about in school. Compounding ignorance upon ignorance respecting class issues, among other crucial matters.

One of the most intelligent guys I know responded to a survey I submitted to a hundred highly educated souls nationwide which was focused on the Ancient World. My questionnaire read,

“Don’t look anything up.

Tell me 5 things that you think of associated with

  1. Classical Greece


  1. The Roman Empire.


His response:


1) Peloponnesian War

2) Philosophy-Zeno, Heraclitus, etc

3) Olympics

4) Eleusinian mysteries, oracle at delphi

5) minoan and mycenean cultures


1) Caesar-augustus-marc antony period

2) persecution of christians

3) hadrian’s wall

4) all roads lead to rome, pax romana

5) that the tribal celts and germanics were more sophisticated, and free, while the romans were the real barbarians.”

Excellent response, by most standards. Thing is, nothing is noted about slavery. Slavery, upon which the whole potpourri was contingent upon. Slavery, which was an enormous fact of life for the Ancient World, and which created a dynamic that can be easily traced to the cotton fields of 19-century Alabama and the devastated desert societies of the Middle East today.

Romans were barbaric, but the extent of their barbarity is not part of the take away of the typical student. To judge from my survey — which included graduate students from Harvard and Stanford University and professors from Yale — I’d say that “the extent” was not part of anyone’s education. And that sad fact enables citizens today in the so-called “free world” to contribute unconscionably to the enslavement and immiseration of millions, many of which are trying to cross the border into Italy illegally, as I write.

The potpourri of History which is taught in our schools must be addressed post haste. Myself, I waste no time each day trying to get my foot in the door of some educational institution which will give me the opportunity to talk about what really came down in the Ancient World that’s gone down the proverbial Memory Hole. [Pause.] To no avail.

The ship may have sailed for that, but I’ll keep at it. For the sins of omission in our educational realm must be addressed in quarters other than alternative media outlets, which are consulted by far too few concerned citizens, and by none of the unconcerned citizens in our midst.

I’ll die a happy man if I can pass on something like the following to a Middle School kid or any youngster who’s being primed to jump through academic hoops by regurgitating generic pap about how “all roads lead to Rome” (without any acknowledgement of the roads having been built so that Roman soldiers could march four-abreast into any province to put rebellions down.):

“Their conditions of life were atrocious and their livelihoods insecure. They lived in tenements 60 to 70 feet high, squeezed together in a density seven or eight times that of a modern Western city, their homes in constant danger of collapsing or catching fire, and with no water and no access to the sewers.” — from the incomparable Chris Harman’s A People’s History of the World.

But no… that scenario’s unlikely because I’m prematurely dismissed as an applicant to teach World History on the basis of my not being certified in any given state, and being unwilling to servilely secure certification by the powers that be. My half a century of service in the educational realm as a professor and worldwide educator on all levels counting for nothing in the anal-retentive world of academic propriety. Where the controlling forces insist upon only letting in educators who will mindlessly repeat — ad nauseum — how the Romans killed Christians in arenas and Nazis gassed Jews, omitting (with the former) the class dynamics totally, and (with the latter) omitting mention of gypsies and others. James W. Loewen’s highly instructive book comes to mind at this juncture.

If we want to meet the challenge posed by the officially designated terrorists today, we’re going to have to find a way to let the likes of me* into schools, so that youngsters can be made privy to the potpourri of ways in which our powers that be are creating misery in the world, and undermining our own society.

*In a sane world, anyone who was mentored by Howard Zinn and Iris Chang should be invited to teach History to youngsters, official educational passports in hand, or not. Enthusiastically. But, of course, Academia is certifiable.

My M.A. from Teachers College, Columbia University was in Dramatic Art and Speech Arts (with much History under my belt on the doctoral level), and — still — during my early years of five decades of teaching I — sadly — told students that Cato declared that “a great orator must be a good man”… and that Cicero was the most excellent example of that model. But I was, then, ignorant of Cicero’s abominations, like his self-serving condemnation of (relatively) well-meaning dissident senators like Catiline. And ignorant of his other indiscretions. Including murder.

A good man is hard to find, it seems. Especially if he’s highly educated. But when the worthy men or women of history are discovered, we shouldn’t allow certified instructors to bury them under a rubble made up of unworthy icons. Even if they’re eloquent, and hypnotize us with their words, and act as if they care about the rabble. [I won’t name the recent president I’m thinking of….]

The rabble should be spotlighted, studied, celebrated. From the past, along with their counterparts today. They should be supported, their interests honored.

Otherwise, Western state-sponsored terrorism — the greatest terrorism on earth — will continue. Destroying what is truly worthwhile from the Ancient World in the process. Authentically humane.

Richard Martin Oxman has been an educator and activist for over half-a-century. He would be honored to speak gratis at any educational institution which makes a request at [email protected].

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