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Who Killed the Iceman?

July 26, 2001

So the Iceman was killed.

Ten years ago the well-preserved frozen body of a man, estimated at 5,300 years old, was found in the Italian Alps. Now it appears that the Iceman, as he has been nicknamed, died violently: an arrowhead has been found lodged under his left shoulder.

By now the trail is cold. The identity of the culprit may never be known. Authorities insist, however, that Congressman Gary Condit is not a suspect.

Reconstructing the past is a fascinating and endless enterprise. We never have as many facts as we would like; what we know is always a tiny fraction of what remains unknown; and we never know how small even that fraction really is.

Whole biographies of William Shakespeare, up to 600 pages or so, are written from a handful of documents totaling maybe 30 pages. The rest is surmise. And there is plenty of reason to doubt whether he even wrote the works ascribed to him.

The hunger for data about Shakespeare has led to a long series of forgeries and blunders. The latest excitement concerns a supposed portrait of Shakespeare, which is certainly bogus.

It’s a portrait of a young man, date and identity unknown, bearing this inscription: “Shakspere Born April 23 — 1563 Died April 23 — 1616 Aged 52 This Likeness taken 1603 Age at that time 39 yrs.”

One thing is certain: portraits in those days didn’t carry that sort of detailed information. The huge 1623 Folio of Shakespeare’s plays didn’t even mention the years of his birth and death, let alone calendar dates. His exact birthday (in 1564, by the way) is still unknown, after centuries of research.

So the information on the portrait must have been added long after the painting was made, in an attempt to pass it off as an authentic likeness of Shakespeare. Whoever committed it was too naive to realize that his “facts” themselves would expose the fakery by being too precise to be true.

[Breaker quote: History as 
mystery]False history can have disastrous consequences. Our own Civil War was the needless result of some bad history on the part of Abraham Lincoln.

Lincoln denied the right of the Southern states to secede from the Union. He based this assertion in history: the states, he said, had never existed independently of the Union, so they couldn’t reclaim their independence in 1861.

But what about the Declaration of Independence, which said they were “free and independent states”? Lincoln answered with a sophistry: that the states were merely claiming independence of Great Britain, not of each other.

He went on to say that the Union had been further “matured” in the Articles of Confederation. Apparently he never read those Articles, because they say at the outset that “each state retains its sovereignty, freedom, and independence.” How could a state “retain” what it had never had in the first place? Obviously the states already recognized their own independence by emphatically reaffirming it.

So the Articles of Confederation, far from making an unbreakable Union, was actually a second Declaration of Independence! Lincoln was also unaware that in the age of the Founding Fathers, a “state” was still, by definition, free, sovereign, and independent, whereas a “confederation” was — also by definition — a voluntary association of sovereign states, any of which might withdraw at will. Until Lincoln’s time, the Union was often called a “confederation”; Lincoln himself sometimes referred to it as “this confederacy.”

Nevertheless, 620,000 young men paid with their lives for Lincoln’s willful falsification of history. Beyond that, the Civil War wrecked the original federal system and paved the way for monolithic centralized government.

It’s sometimes said that history is written by the victors; but such “victors’ history” is really official propaganda rather than a serious and conscientious attempt to reconstruct the past.

Fortunately, the records of American history are ample enough to allow us to correct Lincoln’s version of it; but the fact remains that Lincoln’s version is the one taught in the government-run schools, so it will take a long time for the general public to realize the truth — if indeed that is even possible at this point.

Maybe history is its own reward. Those who cherish and study the past for its own sake will find it full of surprises — some of them heartbreaking.

Joseph Sobran

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Copyright © 2001 by the Griffin Internet Syndicate,
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