The Other Charlotte has a fine post today on made-up history: the way left-wing historians manufacture facts and statistics to fit whatever Marxist theory du jour that they happen to be peddling. When you confront them with the falsifications, they give a postmodern shrug and tell you that?s what historians do all the time. (See TOC’s “Historians Are Always Making Up Figures,” today below.) One prime example: Rigoberta Menchu, who pretended to be an oppressed semi-literate Guatemalan peasant and made up all sorts of other victimological fictions in her supposed autobiography, I, Rigoberta Menchu (1992). Menchu won the Nobel Peace Prize for her efforts and became the darling of the intellectual set in Europe and the U.S.A., where, clad in peasant blouse and homespun headdress, she preached the Marxist-guerrilla gospel to the “sandalistas” who were then flocking to Central America to join the revolutions fulminated by Cuba and Nicaragua.
Turned out, of course, that Menchu made most of it up, as Middlebury College anthropologist David Stoll later discovered (read David Horowitz’s FrontPage magazine account of Stoll’s research into Rigoberta’s fibs here). But hey–the the intellectuals didn’t care: Rigoberta (who turned out to hail from a relatively prosperous family and received a classy convent-school education) might have been lying, but she was telling a “higher truth” about oppression of native peoples by big bad colonialist white males. Here is how Mary Jo McConahy of Pacific News Service put it in 1999:
“It has always been clear to me that these two tireless workers [Stoll and Menchu] operate on completely different planes. Stoll is wholeheartedly concerned with verifiable fact and has a bulldog yen to smash icons; Menchu’s strength comes from a vision of herself as duty-bound to represent the Indian as she sees the Indian to be.”
Yes, two different truths, one based on verifiable facts, the other on ideological fantasy. What’s amazing is that Rigoberta Menchu, after all these years, is still around (her book, far from being discredited, is still taught in college courses), and she’s even more honored than ever. Indeed, she’s now an official of the Guatemalan government. I discovered this a couple months ago when my husband and I attended a lecture on Mayan archaeological sites in Guatemala at the National Geographic Society. A cadre of Guatemalan officials had been invited to the lectures as guests, and among the elegantly clad gentlemen in dark suits and ladies in soigne silks I spotted a figure in a peasant blouse that had a vaguely phony, fresh-from-the-cleaners look to it. “It’s Rigoberta Menchu,” I joked to my husband. Then the woman was introduced to the audience–and she was Rigoberta Menchu! Yes, Rigoberta now has a highly placed job in Guatemalan officialdom, where she’s a “goodwill ambassador” charged with helping implement the peace accords that ended the fighting between the leftist guerrillas and the Guatemalan government. The job seems to include a nice travel allowance.
The CNN report on Menchu’s appointment earlier this year put the matter of the lies in Menchu’s book oh-so-delicately:
“She later acknowledged using the testimony of other victims for her book ‘I, Rigoberta Menchu,’ previously thought to have been an autobiographical account of the civil war.”
Yes, telling a “higher truth” instead of the actual truth will always get you somewhere.