Thursday, August 8, 2019


So I found the following thread on Reddit: "China has Tienanmen Square. What historical event does your government not want you to talk about?" Cue any number of people going on about this or that thing that some nation had done. But one commenter noted that most of the examples given were: "bad shit that countries did but openly admit." And I mostly agree with that. None of the examples I read that were raised for the United States dealt with items that I'd never heard of, or seemed to have been scrubbed from search engines. And this is common with discussions like this. People take incidents that they are personally very invested in and treat a failure to aggressively broadcast them as evidence of a coverup and/or official censorship. I have yet to find an situation where someone says: "The mainstream media won't talk about this, but..." that couldn't be found in the mainstream media. It was never front page news, but it was there nonetheless.

But in thinking about what an American version of Tienanmen Square might be, I started to wonder what sort of event would the United States government effectively attempt to render classified, such that speaking of it could be construed as revealing state secrets. For the most part, I couldn't really think of anything. But I don't have a security clearance, so if there are such events, I wouldn't know about them. And that's what makes the question not really work in this context. There are probably any number of covert operations that, if someone knew anything about them, they'd be sanctioned for speaking up about. Take the NSA's looking into metadata from cellular calls, for instance. But that wasn't a public event that took place within a major metropolitan area. It was behind closed doors from the start.

When it comes to historical events, it's not the government that wants the role of censor; it's some or another segment of the populace, instead. In other words, at least in the United States, it's not the government that has staked some important aspect of its identity on a particular understanding of historical particulars. Segments of the citizenry, however, may be a different story. So what tends to keep events out of the major "official" channels isn't the threat of prosecution, but a combination of limited space and limited attention. But to people who understand that a given event should have received more air time than it did, that's not a particularly satisfying conclusion. And so we end up with an idea that the government is strangely incompetent, gamely attempting to hide events that even cursory research quickly surface.

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