Lost in the Past (It’s not just students who don’t know history)
This has far more than academic importance. Demagogues of every stripe seem to have one thing in common: They all lie about history. This is how a buffoon like David Barton becomes a major force in one of the two largest political parties. It is how Greenwald and the glibertarian sabotage lobby claim moral parity between the US and Russia. It is how Hamas and its supporters justify their terrorism and internal oppression. It is how the John Birch Society gained control of my former county’s Republican Party. It is how Fox TV managed to convince a significant percentage of Americans that the Moon landings never happened. The list of abuses is endless. I really don’t know if those who ignore the past are doomed to repeat it, but they appear to be doomed anyway.
Ask a high school senior what the Great War was all about and you’re likely to get a shrug or a stab based on a recent episode of “Game of Thrones.” Hint: its 100th anniversary is this year. Hint: globe-straddling old empires collapsed and new horrors, from genocide to slaughter by poisonous gas, were ushered in. Hint: its repercussions are with us still, from Syria to Russia to the American role as international cop.
If you said “First World War,” you’re at the top of the class. The perception that we’re raising a nation of doofi about the past was generated, in part, by a 2010 report that only 12 percent of students in their last year of high school had a firm grasp of our nation’s history. Add to that a 2011 Pew study showing that nearly half of Americans think the main cause of the Civil War was a dispute over federal authority — not slavery — and you’ve got a serious national memory hole.
But before blaming the victims, look at the top. Opinion leaders, corporate titans, politicians, media personalities and educators — dunce caps for all. Even the History Channel now does very little history, with a menu heavy on swamp people, big rigs and pawn stars.
Of late, you had the venture capitalist Tom Perkins compare the call for higher taxes in the United States to Kristallnacht, the state-sanctioned, anti-Jewish riots in Nazi Germany of 1938. Anyone who is literate about history would never liken a rampage that burned or destroyed 267 synagogues, vandalized 7,500 businesses and killed at least 91 Jewish people to progressive taxation.
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