Power over history

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The unaltered photo of the Women’s March in January 2017 that displays anti-Trump signs. Photo//Mario Tama

On January 17, Joe Heim, reporter for The Washington Post, reported that National Archives’ officials blurred images from the 2017 Women’s March targeting Trump to “avoid political controversy.” Mr. Heim details in his Twitter account how this discovery was due to chance — he happened to notice a display of the Women’s March at the Archives with some of the signs blurred. The National Archives is the U.S. government’s recording of important happenings in American history. The fact that some of the signs at a major event in history were blurred because they were critical of Donald Trump was a frightening discovery to many, including myself.

History should never be altered to please our current political climate, yet it is oftentimes, unfortunately, subjected to it. Many like to believe that history is an objective concept. However, it is objective until it is told. Its fragility results in dents from those who hold it; this National Archives’ alteration best exemplified how even a photograph’s full context can be broken to display only what is pleasing to those who are in control. Erasing criticism of Trump is the same as subjecting history to a political side, altering the context of the photograph to suppress some of the voices in the largest single-day protest in American history.

The alteration was obviously a form of political censorship to manipulate the perceptions of those who see the displays, but many people are reluctant to use the word “censorship,” which is often found in the guides of running a dictatorship. Expression is an essential form of democracy, and the discovery of censorship to such an extensive degree is like a glitch in the matrix — a crack in our illusion that we live in a society that values the complete “truth.” 

Moreover, the fact that this was discovered due to chance, and the National Archives only apologized and admitted to their “mistake” after the outrage shows the importance of oversight in how history is told. It was quite hypocritical of the National Archives, the organization in charge of recording history, to attempt to erase and manipulate it as they pleased. However, this incident certainly confirms the power politics holds, and that unlike in a dictatorship, politics’ only weakness is the collective outrage of its subordinates.