American Public Schools and History

My amigo and blogging colleague Lexington Green had an excellent post this week on the anniversary of the invasion of Poland by Nazi Germany, abetted by Joseph Stalin’s Soviet Union, which set off WWII in Europe. Lex laments the state of historical knowlege in public schools and asks readers for their recommendations for books on the Second world War. As of this writing, there are already 47 comments:

September 1, 1939

World War II started (in Europe) 70 years ago today.

There are two sorts of people in the USA today. A tiny minority who are very interested in military history and know a lot about World War II, and a vast majority who can barely even tell you who was in it (“was that the one with Hitler?”), when it occurred (“the Seventies?”), or what it was about, or even who won (“Japan?”). American children whom I talk to are apparently taught two things and two things only about our participation in World War II: (1) The Japanese Americans were imprisoned, and that was racist and wrong, and (2) we dropped atomic bombs on Japan, and that was racist and wrong. Some know about the Holocaust. College age youth are taught that the war was an exercise in American imperialism, meant to spread expoitative capitalism across the world, and that it is a myth that the GIs went to Europe to liberate the conquered countries or to bring democracy and freedom. Even depictions that are not entirely negative, such as Saving Private Ryan, depict the war solely as a personal tragedy and pointless death and destruction, and not about anything, and certainly not about anything good or admirable. Fed exclusively on this diet for over a generation, we now have a population that sees the war in this way.

This is precisely what Pres. Reagan warned us about:

We’ve got to do a better job of getting across that America is freedom-freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of enterprise. And freedom is special and rare. It’s fragile; it needs [protection]. So, we’ve got to teach history based not on what’s in fashion but what’s important-why the Pilgrims came here, who Jimmy Doolittle was, and what those 30 seconds over Tokyo meant. You know, 4 years ago on the 40th anniversary of D-Day, I read a letter from a young woman writing to her late father, who’d fought on Omaha Beach. Her name was Lisa Zanatta Henn, and she said, “We will always remember, we will never forget what the boys of Normandy did.” Well, let’s help her keep her word. If we forget what we did, we won’t know who we are. I’m warning of an eradication of the American memory that could result, ultimately, in an erosion of the American spirit.

Reagan was right. I have gone beyond being distressed about all this to being fatalistically resigned. With historical memory either non-existent or actively corrupted, those of us who care about these things will have to preserve the record as best we can.

At The Corner (updated here) they are asking people to list their favorite books on World War II. This is a good idea, and I solicit your suggestions in the comments. The Boyz readership always suggests something I have not heard of already. Please list two or three favorites, in the comments. I could spend all day doing this, but I will abide by my own rule, and limit myself to three.

Read the rest here:

You should read the rest, as well as the comments, many of which are informative and a few of which qualify as entertaining. While I am very tempted to discuss books and historiography, I will instead address the teaching of history in our public schools.

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