This will be old hat to professional historians out there, but the old saying goes that “history is written by the victors.” Truth is rather often not the truth in verbal form, but often not the truth even in the written format - at least the complete truth. It’s simply the opinion of the most articulate (or loudest) person on the block... and they ALL have an agenda. That's close to saying that all truth is subjective - but not quite.
Pearl Harbor and the Bataan Death-March were held up to me as a child in school as examples of Japanese war-time evil and perfidy. The Allies were the Good Guys - the saviors of civilization. However, my uncle was a personal witness to the Dresden fire-bombing of February 1945, where virtually all of the victims were civilians, deliberately massacred to demoralize a combatant nation. THAT was not discussed in MY history classes.
Ramesses The Great (Ramesses II) lost the battle of Kadesh-Barnea to Hittite forces that cleverly baited him and the Egyptian army he “led” into attacking a small Hittite force, thereby exposing him and his army to a devastating ambush. He suffered a tactical and strategic defeat that he barely survived - by abandoning his personal "Ra" Division troops to the mercies of the Hittites. You would never know this from the victory monuments that Ramesses later erected in Egypt, however. According to those monuments, Ramesses was the great victor, the father of over 100 children... and the one who wrote HIS version of history into monumental stone.
The Protocols of the Elders of Zion is another example. These hideous documents have been proven repeatedly to be fraudulent - a clumsy anti-Semitic propaganda effort put to rest and then later resurrected and propagated by Nazi Germany. With each new generation of anti-Semites, this thing has taken on a multi-generational life of its own. As Josef Goebbels, Hitler's propaganda chief famously said:
“If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it. ”The full Goebbels quote is even more appalling.
Depending on who you listen to, Joseph Smith was a charlatan and a conjuror - or he was a prophet. He dictated the Book of Mormon by staring at two stones in the bottom of a hat, or he actually did translate ~30 kg of golden, minutely-inscribed plates seen and hefted by 13 people. Which version of history is correct?
I automatically discount anything written by people like Christopher Hitchens or Richard Dawkins, as they have a transparent agenda to uphold - and have shown no qualms about writing things about the LDS Church that I know from personal experience have long since been disproved. Other things they have each written about other people and other issues are contested by scholars as dishonest at best, fraudulent at worst.
So: what history can you trust?
I've thought a lot about this. I finally concluded that only something I could see supporting (first- or second-hand) evidence for could be considered reasonably reliable. My Uncle James’ account of Dresden is one: I know him personally to be an individual of very high personal integrity. What about supportive evidence for Joseph Smith? Journals of individuals who viewed the Gold Plates describe leafing through the pages; at least one journal describes the 8" (cubed) block of plates as weighing 60 lbs. With slight variations they all agree on details. Besides never recanting their affidavit, there is one ancillary piece of logic we could apply. Could YOU get 11 people to sign affidavits that they saw and held gold plates - and never reneged from those statements - from your own neighborhood? We could also append to this the rapid and steady growth of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints; it would be hard for that to happen if the premise was based on a string of lies. There are a rather high percentage of Latter-Day Saints with advanced degrees - the faith actively encourages advanced education, something inconsistent with a structure based on lies and deceit. Some people would count this, others perhaps not.
I’ve also considered my own personal experiences. As a physical scientist, I have accumulated in my personal journals a rather large series of small but cumulative evidences that ALL tell me that I’m not following a lie. There are others that are somewhat harder to easily document, such as the strong internal self-consistency, and the utterly pragmatic doctrinal-philosophical framework underlying my faith. I still am astounded with its consistency in explaining personally-observed phenomena and the broader life-experiences of the human species. When I want answers to specific things - in Church history or in my own research efforts - I can always get them, though sometimes the answers arrive in full only years after I began searching.
Years ago I had a friend in Virginia who was troubled by certain anti-LDS writings. There seems to be a small but focused sub-culture of people who accumulate and publish these sorts of things. I agree this isn't very logical - I mean, why would they even care?. Mike would bring one to my attention and challenge me. I would dutifully research the issue, and it was always something said by one person, perhaps two - and always arrived third or fourth hand. After a significant amount of effort I would satisfy myself that someone - for whatever suspect personal reasons - was simply out to cause damage, creating their own small Protocols of the Elders of Zion.
After awhile I concluded that this debunking effort was a huge waste of time. I suppose everyone should go through this at some time just to satisfy themselves. However, I concluded that from the cumulative evidence that I can see, particularly in my own life, that I need not bother anymore to even pursue these ugly things. I'm too busy cataloging my own supportive personal experiences - the things I know firsthand that attest that I'm really on the Shining Path.
"Brothers and sisters, this is a divine work in process, with the manifestations and blessings of it abounding in every direction, so please don’t hyperventilate if from time to time issues arise that need to be examined, understood, and resolved. They do and they will. In this Church, what we know will always trump what we do not know. And remember, in this world, everyone is to walk by faith....So be kind regarding human frailty—your own as well as that of those who serve with you in a Church led by volunteer, mortal men and women. Except in the case of His only perfect Begotten Son, imperfect people are all God has ever had to work with. That must be terribly frustrating to Him, but He deals with it. So should we. And when you see imperfection, remember that the limitation is not in the divinity of the work.I know that Joseph Smith, who acknowledged that he wasn’t perfect, was nevertheless the chosen instrument in God’s hand to restore the everlasting gospel to the earth. " --Jeffrey R Holland, April 2013 General Conference.
Joseph Smith readily admitted to being imperfect - just like Moses did, like Peter and Paul did. Only Christ is perfect.
One final thing to consider: At the time Joseph Smith was murdered in 1844, the population of Nauvoo was roughly 12,000 souls, rivaling Chicago at the time. In the terrible confusion and sadness that followed Joseph's death, Brigham Young took charge as the presiding authority - the president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. In the bitter winter of 1846-47 almost the entire population decamped for Iowa, to live in misery for several months, then they moved westward in a long overland trek to the Great Salt Lake Basin to establish their new Zion. Everyone in that population knew what had gone on with Joseph - gossip in a small community moves quickly, especially when the community is without televisions, the internet, computer games, or air conditioning to keep them indoors. If their prophet had been doing bad things, everyone would have known about it. Yet some 12,000 people gave up their comfortable homes and marched into the dangerous, largely unknown western wilderness together.
I consider that the strongest vote you could possibly make about the character of Joseph Smith, and the door to truth that he opened with the Restoration. 12,000 people voted with their feet - 12,000 people who all personally knew Joseph Smith. That simple historical fact speaks volumes.
I’m satisfied that I've found the truth, and am happy to just follow it. The plan now is just to endure to the end.