History is nothing more than competition between stories, one of which eventually wins out after the first-hand witnesses are gone. The winning story is not necessarily the truth, but the story that addresses the inadequacies that its people face.
Myths become a part of history. One of the longest-running myths is that Paul Revere rode a horse all night to warn the colonialists that the British were coming. This legend merged with history after Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote a poem called the "Midnight Ride of Paul Revere."
But Longfellow wrote the poem almost one century after the alleged fact. The real story was that Revere was captured early in the night and detained by the British. So history gave us a hero, a face to put with our revolt.
Even worse was the myth of Nathan Hale. The real Hale served as a spy for George Washington's army and was captured by the British. He was hanged in the presence of British loyalists.
The myth, perpetuated in grade school readers for years, has Hale asking the loyalists for a Bible the night before his execution. They deny it and they also deny him a chaplain. And right before he goes to the gallows, Hale is quoted as saying, "I only regret that I have but one life to live for my country."
How do we know this is a myth? We know because it is highly unlikely that the British would let word out of such a heroic statement that would have bolstered the spirits of the colonialists, especially by identifying a colony as a "country." And it is also unlikely that they would have given sympathizers access to Hale or the execution.
It isn't too hard to see through these myths, so why do people believe them? It has to do with the land that we stand upon.
When confronted with truths about the Founders of our nation holding slaves or leaders of the United States mistreating Indians, some people respond by looking for justification for these actions. They look for the heroism and bravery they believe about Revere and Hale and conclude that we are "God's chosen people."
This brand of mythology continues to this day. They perpetuate policies that do not serve the same public that laps the lies up.
Most people believe the myth that Osama bin Laden planned and orchestrated the attacks of 9/11. Stating and re-stating this untruth has become a convenient way for our leaders to steer the public away from the real perpetrators of the crimes of that day and for continuing an unending battle called the "War on Terror."
This myth is just as transparent as the ones about Revere and Hale. Bin Laden is not even on the FBI's Most Wanted List for 9/11 and has never confessed to the crime. But blaming bin Laden shifts the blame to someone else and brands a whole group of people called "al Qaeda" as our targets.
It also adds to our own self-image as the "good guys" who have followed Destiny in conquering the "bad guys" (usually people of color) in getting the land we have and the right to use force whenever we want to. Anything can be justified.
Even the myth that God gave us the land we live and lie for.