Recommended by Ricochet Members Created with Sketch. Sid Hartman, the Past, and How We Write History

 

Ten days ago, Minneapolis StarTribune sports writer and journalist Sid Hartman passed way at the age of 100. He started in the newspaper business when he was nine years old in 1929. 1929! He went from his start at a downtown news run for the Minneapolis Tribune to weekly columnist with over 21,150 bylines. It wasn’t a surprise that a centenarian passed away, rather, it was a cause of unexpected disquiet. Sid was a Minnesota institution, as reliable and ever present as a Minnesota sports fan’s disappointment. Even on the morning of his death, his column ran. And I’m sure, just as every Sunday, my dad had his copy of the Star, flipped to Section C, read Sid, and promptly folded it with a stout grumble. Sid was never flowery, rarely so elegant in his writing to overshadow that he was more reporter than columnist.Illustrative

I appreciate that Sid valued the facts, hard and cold though they may be. Living through a World War, economic booms and busts, a man on the moon, and the internet age, he undoubtedly had a unique perspective on the human condition related to history, even if reported through the lens of sports. But I wonder how, in the era we live in now and the immediate future, our history will be written by the next generation?

It’s often attributed to Winston Churchill, but the phrase ‘History is written by the victors’ has early iterations in France from 1842, “[L]’histoire est juste peut-être, mais qu’on ne l’oublie pas, elle a été écrite par les vainqueurs” (The history is right perhaps, but let us not forget it, it was written by the victors). But who, exactly, are the victors? And is this statement really even true?

The current political climate poses a serious challenge to America’s recorded and retold history, certainly. The 1619 Project; the underlying intent in the Constitution towards the rights of slaves and women; the motivation of President Lincoln’s decision to engage in the Civil War – all have been subject to heavy debate. So too, is the proper place and celebration of symbolic monuments of past generations. Heroes and cultural icons such as Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, Christopher Columbus, even the emblematic Mount Rushmore have fallen under the harsh glare of self-appointed history editors, themselves looking to rewrite or erase everything giving off so much as a whiff of the problematic.

I think it’s the cultural victors who are in control of current history, rewriting it to further their goals of shaming us into the desired future, even if it means lying about the past. There is nothing that happened in the last decade or two that fundamentally changed the facts of history. What changed was the priorities and value historians placed on some events over others in order to create a certain narrative. Columbus’ journey was a ground-breaking event not only for global exploration but in settling the Americas. The American Experiment was a revolutionary idea that brought freedom, liberty, and hope to countless millions of people. But because Columbus was stigmatized with a colonizer label, and our Founders were slaveholders, their statues are defaced and torn down in cities across the country; Columbus’ ‘Day’ is shunned in favor of Indigenous People. Even the moon landing, a cause for all of America to stop and collectively participate in one of the greatest accomplishments of all mankind…ah but there is the problem! Mankind. When we were celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Apollo moon landing, the New York Times published an op-ed criticizing it for lacking the diversity found in the feminist-forward, Soviet Communist Cosmonaut program. After all, Comrades in space should include women, too.

The academic historians hold court in their tenured posts, lecturing from the books they spent years crafting, as if history was an empty mold in which they can pour their thought and feelings. But history is also shaped through the cultural lens held by proceeding generations. World War I is often forgotten behind the much more popularized Second World War. Citizen Soldier, Saving Private Ryan, and Band of Brothers celebrate the Greatest Generation in books, on film, and on television. The valor shown and gallantry of the mission has so far outweighed some attempts to tarnish the overarching victory of good against evil.

Conversely, ask a young person now what they think of the Vietnam War and they probably relate to something from Full Metal Jacket, Platoon, or even Forrest Gump. Filmmakers (I’m going to go out on a limb and assume a mostly politically-liberal persuasion) transferred their dislike for that war to their portrayal of soldiers, military and political leaders, and the conservative cultural status-quo. America saw a burgeoning news commentary as a means of swaying public opinion. History as it is written uses the image of America as indecent and corrupt to pound us over our heads like a cudgel until the idea becomes a motto for a generation. The ensuing massacre at the hands of Pol Pot is somehow an afterthought to the horrors of America’s participation in Vietnam. But not many popular films have been made about the Khmer Rouge. Apparently, it’s more marketable to villainize a generation of young American men instead of Communists. The crossover popularity and lure of fame was the standard set by Michael Herr. A war correspondent for Esquire during Vietnam, he went on to co-write Apocalypse Now and Full Metal Jacket. Those tales are now etched into the collective memories of Americans, while journalist and novelist Tom Wolfe’s works such as The Right Stuff and Radical Chic don’t carry the same pop-culture weight.

It’s important not just how history judges us, but who gets to be the judge, and ever closer, the executioner. The writers of history determine who are the ‘winners’ and ‘losers.’ Those labels tend to stick. The crumbling of the Christian reputation and lessening influence it has on collective American society is not solely laid at the hands of the Catholic Church abuse scandal, but at the caricature of the slack-jawed lemmings, science deniers, and myth believers as H.L. Mencken wrote about in his satirical account of the Scopes Trial. There are plenty of the same shallow interpretations of political and cultural icons: Gerald Ford as the clumsy dunce and Sarah Palin as the doddering air-head, both Saturday Night Live portrayals that became the accepted reality. Some are outright lies. The New York Times’ headline, “Bush Encounters the Supermarket, Amazed”, made George H.W. Bush into an isolated fuddy-duddy who didn’t even know how a grocery store worked! The same high-minded intellectuals and journalists who see themselves as real-life players in All the President’s Men portray the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg as the patron saint of women (and abortion), while writing think pieces wondering who is really raising Justice Amy Coney Barrett’s seven children.

Which brings us to today and looking at the first two decades of the 21st century. Will this snapshot in time reflect accurately the crises, the victories, and the injustices we’re now living through? Already, the Obama Administration has dug its heels into being scandal-free. Will our grandchildren ever know of the Iran Nuclear Deal or the Great Recession? The Trump Administration went through an impeachment trial only months ago. It’s now memory-holed because it was found to be based on a hope and a dream by the #Resistance Left.

Sid Hartman

As Time’s clock ticks mercilessly onward, it sharpens our perspective the further into the future humanity trudges along. There is only so much space in the halls of time; only so much patience for separating fact from fiction. Will the White House intrigue and uncouth tweets be what remains of this Presidency? Will the pandemic be a mere blip on the screen of global events or will a victory such as realized peace in the Middle East be the world-changer that makes for a lasting legacy?

If we were all promised 100 years like those given to Sid Hartman, what in our lives would be written about in generations to come? For America’s history, it is writing about the balls and strikes, the wins and losses, often rewritten to satisfy today’s standards, fairness be damned. Reporting and recording the events of our time for reflection tomorrow was the soul of Sid Hartman. Now, the narratives useful to shape tomorrow are written for history, today.

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  1. JennaStocker Member
    JennaStocker

    As a footnote of sorts, I’m leaving this article about ending objectivity in journalism. It’s a stunning admission of truth in a profession that seems to badly lack it. I don’t mean to praise it, just that it’s finally confessed: https://www.poynter.org/educators-students/2020/its-time-for-journalism-educators-to-rethink-objectivity-and-teach-more-about-context/

    • #1
    • October 28, 2020, at 9:21 AM PDT
    • 2 likes
  2. She Reagan
    SheJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    JennaStocker (View Comment):

    As a footnote of sorts, I’m leaving this article about ending objectivity in journalism. It’s a stunning admission of truth in a profession that seems to badly lack it. I don’t mean to praise it, just that it’s finally confessed: https://www.poynter.org/educators-students/2020/its-time-for-journalism-educators-to-rethink-objectivity-and-teach-more-about-context/

    I’m sorry. I really, really tried to read the entire linked article. But I couldn’t get much beyond this:

    As educators, it is our role and responsibility to teach a journalistic approach based not on objectivity, but on seeking truth

    To go back to Winston’s Inexhaustible Well:

     ‘Truth is incontrovertible. Panic may resent it. Ignorance may deride it. Malice may distort it. But there it is.’

    Once a person, or a people, start to believe that there are different truths based on each invididual’s experience of a reality that, perhaps, is available only to them and which is different for all others, then we’ve lost our common humanity, and we might as well hang it up.

    • #2
    • October 28, 2020, at 10:15 AM PDT
    • 6 likes
  3. JennaStocker Member
    JennaStocker

    She (View Comment):
    Once a person, or a people, start to believe that there are different truths based on each invididual’s experience of a reality that, perhaps, is available only to them and which is different for all others, then we’ve lost our common humanity, and we might as well hang it up.

    Yes, you are so correct. It erases the line between objective truth and fiction. Truth, and history is merely a figment of one’s perception of reality. And once that’s established, there can be no common view of the future.

    • #3
    • October 28, 2020, at 10:21 AM PDT
    • 2 likes
  4. SkipSul Coolidge
    SkipSulJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    History is never set in stone, no matter how much stone you set on it.

    Consider:

    1. Edward Gibbon set a high bar for writers of history, but also put forth any number of erroneous theories about the Roman Empire that have persisted until this day. He is still read popularly for his writings being works of literature, but no serious scholar of Rome actually uses him as a source – especially on matters of religion, or on anything to do with the eastern half of the empire after 476. But his work set many a burgeoning historian on the path to scholarly history in the first place, even if they have to unlearn his biases.
    2. The popular conceptions of the Reformation again owe much (whether people realize it or not) to such works as Fox’s Book of Martyrs, and informed a massive anti-Catholic bias, and numerous anti-Catholic laws in American and English culture for centuries. Again, actual scholarship reveals a messier history.
    3. One can say the same thing with the Renaissance, or Enlightenment, or other historical fads and beliefs over the centuries.

    We love stories, and use stories to try to shape our world, even if our stories are not really true. So it is with the 1619 lies, so it was really with conceptions we once had about Columbus, or early American history. I like to collect old history books – textbooks especially. The older the better, especially if they were only regionally popular. They are illuminating of what people thought others ought to know, and ought to cherish in eras long gone. Native Americans of course were still called “Indians” when I was a kid (80s), but a century ago “Indians” was often interchangeable with “savages” and similar terms. We should be glad that how we remember and interpret history is not always immutable, even as we remain acutely vigilant that some mutations are horrific.

    Years ago, James Loewen wrote a book called Lies My Teacher Told Me. My copy is from around 2000, and I don’t know if he continued to update the book. He surveyed some of the most popular high school and college American History textbooks and illustrated where they oversimplified history, or completely inverted it, in order to hew to what was then expected. Woodrow Wilson was, at that time, still revered in most textbooks, and those books omitted not only his racism here, but his happy adventurism in invading numerous Central and South-American nations (Wilson holds the record among US presidents for most invasions of other nations). 

    Loewen’s ultimate point was that lies about history, particularly those that elevate heroes and damn villains wholesale, create the very ideological issues you illustrate. Lies always are found out – maybe not for a long time, but they are found out. When people discover they have been lied to, they tend to over-react, often lying right back because you’ve damned someone they thought a hero.

    These things go in long cycles.

    • #4
    • October 28, 2020, at 11:46 AM PDT
    • 3 likes
  5. JennaStocker Member
    JennaStocker

    SkipSul (View Comment):
    History is never set in stone, no matter how much stone you set on it.

    You bring up an important, and crucial point. Sometimes the records of history don’t include all the facts or pertinent perspectives to create an accurate picture of the event or timeline. But it’s entirely another thing to willfully omit facts to construct a false conclusion of history, or to add falsities. I think that’s where we are now, combined with a narrative that favors certain events over others – mostly to create the perception that America is inherently evil or racist or hateful or whatever the shamers wish to put forth. That does a grave disservice to our kids and the unified health of our nation that we can’t celebrate our victories but also not ignore where we fell short of the ideal. I absolutely love that you collect old history texts. You may have to do a post on that, if I may make a humble request.

    • #5
    • October 28, 2020, at 12:20 PM PDT
    • 3 likes
  6. SkipSul Coolidge
    SkipSulJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    JennaStocker (View Comment):

    SkipSul (View Comment):
    History is never set in stone, no matter how much stone you set on it.

    You bring up an important, and crucial point. Sometimes the records of history don’t include all the facts or pertinent perspectives to create an accurate picture of the event or timeline. But it’s entirely another thing to willfully omit facts to construct a false conclusion of history, or to add falsities. I think that’s where we are now, combined with a narrative that favors certain events over others – mostly to create the perception that America is inherently evil or racist or hateful or whatever the shamers wish to put forth. That does a grave disservice to our kids and the unified health of our nation that we can’t celebrate our victories but also not ignore where we fell short of the ideal. I absolutely love that you collect old history texts. You may have to do a post on that, if I may make a humble request.

    I’d not thought of doing that, actually. I’ve got some real corkers.

    • #6
    • October 28, 2020, at 12:42 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  7. JennaStocker Member
    JennaStocker

    SkipSul (View Comment):

    JennaStocker (View Comment):

    SkipSul (View Comment):
    History is never set in stone, no matter how much stone you set on it.

    You bring up an important, and crucial point. Sometimes the records of history don’t include all the facts or pertinent perspectives to create an accurate picture of the event or timeline. But it’s entirely another thing to willfully omit facts to construct a false conclusion of history, or to add falsities. I think that’s where we are now, combined with a narrative that favors certain events over others – mostly to create the perception that America is inherently evil or racist or hateful or whatever the shamers wish to put forth. That does a grave disservice to our kids and the unified health of our nation that we can’t celebrate our victories but also not ignore where we fell short of the ideal. I absolutely love that you collect old history texts. You may have to do a post on that, if I may make a humble request.

    I’d not thought of doing that, actually. I’ve got some real corkers.

    Well now you’ve been outed!

    • #7
    • October 28, 2020, at 12:46 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  8. crogg Coolidge

    JennaStocker: I appreciate that Sid valued the facts, hard and cold though they may be.

    Um, I have a nit to pick regarding your characterization of “Sid!” (Otherwise, I liked you piece and appreciate the thought behind it and all that!)

    I nearly did a spit-take when I read the line quoted above. Lifelong Minnesota resident and sports fan. But half as old as Sid. When I was growing up, all that was allowed on our radio at home was the station that Sid was on, WCCO-AM, and the older men in my family poured over Sid’s columns every week in the newspaper. (Fun Fact: Only when I got my own radio could I then tune into FM stations, other than WCCO-AM, to listen to pop music and rock ‘n roll!)

    Needless to say, I rebelled, and I am still rebelling. Sid was full of (unintentional) hyperbole and booster-ism. And if there were “bad” facts or facts that cast one of his “close, personal friends” in an unfavorable light, then those facts would not be reported by Sid. I think an example in the post other than “Sid!” would have been more compelling to me, but maybe that is just me.

    But still, and maybe it is the COVID talking, I found myself deeply saddened upon his passing. For us “rebels” he was a foil and relatively harmless. It is the end of an era and a Minnesota institution. Maybe it is the also the end of an innocence when we would banter with each other about our favorite sports teams instead of now shaming or being shamed on how we deal with the pandemic.

    • #8
    • October 28, 2020, at 1:20 PM PDT
    • 1 like
    • This comment has been edited.
  9. JennaStocker Member
    JennaStocker

    crogg (View Comment):

    JennaStocker: I appreciate that Sid valued the facts, hard and cold though they may be.

    Um, I have a nit to pick regarding your characterization of “Sid!” (Otherwise, I liked you piece and appreciate the thought behind it and all that!)

    I nearly did a spit-take when I read the line quoted above. Lifelong Minnesota resident and sports fan. But half as old as Sid. When I was growing up, all that was allowed on our radio at home was the station that Sid was on, WCCO-AM, and the older men in my family poured over Sid’s columns every week in the newspaper. (Fun Fact: Only when I got my own radio could I then tune into FM stations, other than WCCO-AM, to listen to pop music and rock ‘n roll!)

    Needless to say, I rebelled, and I am still rebelling. Sid was full of (unintentional) hyperbole and booster-ism. And if there were “bad” facts or facts that cast one of his “close, personal friends” in an unfavorable light, then those facts would not be reported by Sid. I think an example in the post other than “Sid!” would have been more compelling to me, but maybe that is just me.

    And maybe it is the COVID talking, but I found myself deeply saddened upon his passing. For us “rebels” he was a foil and relatively harmless. It is the end of an era and a Minnesota institution. Maybe it is the also the end of an innocence when we would banter with each other about our favorite sports teams instead of now shaming or being shamed on how we deal with the pandemic.

    You’re right about Sid being a homer, though far from a Paul Allen-type, nearly unhinged devotion. But I was really thinking about his favor to straight reporting, if dispassionate about poor play by Minnesota teams. But hey, you don’t get a statue outside Target Field by being a perpetual Negative Nellie. I agree with you though, that he will be missed, and not just by his ‘close, personal friends’.

    • #9
    • October 28, 2020, at 1:27 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  10. aardo vozz Member

    She (View Comment):

    JennaStocker (View Comment):

    As a footnote of sorts, I’m leaving this article about ending objectivity in journalism. It’s a stunning admission of truth in a profession that seems to badly lack it. I don’t mean to praise it, just that it’s finally confessed: https://www.poynter.org/educators-students/2020/its-time-for-journalism-educators-to-rethink-objectivity-and-teach-more-about-context/

    I’m sorry. I really, really tried to read the entire linked article. But I couldn’t get much beyond this:

    As educators, it is our role and responsibility to teach a journalistic approach based not on objectivity, but on seeking truth

    To go back to Winston’s Inexhaustible Well:

    ‘Truth is incontrovertible. Panic may resent it. Ignorance may deride it. Malice may distort it. But there it is.’

    Shorter, sweeter, and to the point : “Facts are stubborn things”— John Adams

     

     

    • #10
    • October 28, 2020, at 4:25 PM PDT
    • Like
  11. James Lileks Contributor

    My favorite Sid moment, which could only have come from someone of his generation, was when we were toasting the end of the old HQ on Portland Avenue. He gave a passionate speech about the family that used to own the paper, and how they were instrumental in pushing for urban renewal, and helped push through the bulldozing of the Gateway district – now seen as one of the monumental urban miscalculations in the city”s history. But to him and his cohort, it was skid row with a lotta old buildings, who needs ’em.

    • #11
    • October 28, 2020, at 6:16 PM PDT
    • 4 likes
  12. JennaStocker Member
    JennaStocker

    James Lileks (View Comment):

    My favorite Sid moment, which could only have come from someone of his generation, was when we were toasting the end of the old HQ on Portland Avenue. He gave a passionate speech about the family that used to own the paper, and how they were instrumental in pushing for urban renewal, and helped push through the bulldozing of the Gateway district – now seen as one of the monumental urban miscalculations in the city”s history. But to him and his cohort, it was skid row with a lotta old buildings, who needs ’em.

    I rewatch the PBS series “Lost Twin Cities” when it pops on in the late hours. I lament never having seen the Metropolitan Building in person, a behemoth of glass, iron, and stone. Urban renewal seems to always wash over the city (& St. Paul) every odd decade leaving the promise of a new, renewed city center. Nicollet Avenue, Calhoun Bde Maka Ska Square, Uptown, but who knows what comes next. The Pandemic-Riots have done a good job of razing the area, so the Pohlads have a wide, blank slate now.

    • #12
    • October 28, 2020, at 6:40 PM PDT
    • 2 likes