Sunday, 25 March 2012

You Wouldn't Bloody Read About It

Over time you get used to the cultural imperialism and arrogance of America. You get so used to history being re-written in World War II films that you no longer react when you see only American soldiers depicted in D-Day films. You merely sigh when a different film shows the American military capturing an Enigma machine instead of the British. After a while you even stop noticing that although our TV screens are awash with American product not one of our shows, not one, will ever appear on the mainstream channels in America. If they like one of our shows, they’ll remake it with an American cast, but you’ll never see the original. These are all old insults and like I said, we’ve all got used to it.

However annoying these things are, they’re all in the realm of fiction where artistic licence (and cultural arrogance) are pretty much expected. But when it comes to the reporting of history, you expect better. If you consult a book that purports to be an encyclopaedia and find breath-takingly inaccurate information, you’re allowed to get a little grumpy.

So here’s the thing. I’m working on a new introduction for the book I’m writing. I wanted to have a line about how the sky is no longer the limit and hasn’t been since the 1950s when Sputnik was launched. I thought I’d better check that Sputnik was actually launched in the 1950s and not the 60s. I could have Googled it, but the computer wasn’t on, the Microsoft start up takes so bloody long and besides, I can’t fricking stand that Google always seems to send me to bloody stupid, bloody annoying, bloody poxy Wikipedia first.  I find it simpler and easier to consult the reference section on my book shelf. Call me an insane old Ludditte but I trust books more than the Internet.

Sadly, the book I picked up let me down badly. So badly I even briefly considered throwing it in the bin. It’s a little one volume encyclopaedia put out by Columbia University Press and ok, it was published in 1983 but it’s still useful in terms of history and Sputnik should have been in it. The cover assured me that it was not just ‘..comprehensive and authoritative,’ but ‘was prepared under the guidance of  a distinguished panel of scholars.’ A distinguished panel of incredibly biased American scholars would have been more truthful. I’d known for some time that this particular encyclopaedia was really good for facts about America, but not so much for other countries and their histories. I’d encountered omissions before, but not outright fraud.

So I tried to look up Sputnik. No listing. Rude but not unusual I thought. It’s probably in the section a few pages back, under the heading of Space Exploration, I thought. But no, by a clever sleight of hand and the drawing up of biased categories, there was not a single mention of Sputnik in the entire section. The two categories listed were Manned Space Flight Programs and Space Probe Programs and because Sputnik was not technically a probe, they managed to ignore it completely, the rude bloody bastards! The first human made device to ever leave the Earth’s atmosphere, the first ever artificial satellite to orbit our globe and 26 years later the Americans who wrote this book couldn’t even bring themselves to mention it. I mean, I knew the Americans were touchy about losing the early stages of the Space Race, but to hold a grudge for almost 30 years, that’s just nuts. (In case you’re interested I did manage to find the launch date of the first Sputnik -1957- in another of my books, a dictionary. An English dictionary.  From England.)

The rudeness didn’t end there. By another sleight of hand in the listing of the various space programs, they managed to disguise the true Russian contribution to the exploration of space. By listing the programs alphabetically instead of chronologically they managed to give the top six entries to America instead of Russia. It starts with all the Apollo launches and you don’t get to anything Russian till half way through. It’s only when you carefully check the column headed Year of Launch that you realise that you’ve been conned. Especially when you notice that Yuri Gargarin and his first manned flight comes last on the list. Damn the Russians for using words like Vostok and Zond for their missions! If only they’d named them all Aardvark or Aasvogel (a South African vulture) they could have beaten the Americans linguistically as well as in the real world!

Wait. Strike that. The American authors would have figured out some other scheme instead to keep them at the top. Those thin-skinned, delusional, arrogant, petty-minded, bloody purveyors of American propaganda. I could go on, I know lots of other rude words, but I might end it here. Can’t be too rude about America these days. Not since Obama signed an Executive Order that allows the American military to grab anyone they want, from any country in the world and then take them back to America to stand trial for the crime of terrorism. Or being Un-American. They’re the same thing aren’t they? Either way, better zip my lip.