Remembering History in the Shadow of September 11, 2001
Recently I was gently, but quite properly, chastised for a comment here at RedState, wherein I assumed that the Stalinian/Hitlerian technique of “The Big Lie” would have been known to all who were not “aliterate” or “illiterate.” The comment was harsh, and led me to meditate on the passing of Time and the passing of the knowledge of History to new generations.
My present 6th-Grade Latin students were either unborn or infants in 2001. Many college students would at best have inchoate memories of the Islamic terrorist attack on America. And so for this newest generation of Americans, we will need to explain the importance, the long-term significance, of this event, since it will define a good many things about present-day America, and could very well explain why a parent is now in Afghanistan…or why a parent died there.
As a Baby Boomer, I find the situation parallel with my generation growing up in the shadow of Pearl Harbor, Nazism, and the Cold War against Communism with its constant threat of atomic warfare. We were taught – in both public and parochial schools – of the importance of World War II and of standing against our erstwhile ally but long-term enemy the Soviet Union. To be sure, a good number of the Baby Boomers rejected this emphasis by daring to wonder if World War II could have been avoided or might even have been partially caused by America, thereby denigrating the sacrifice of Allied soldiers through generational antagonism, and by relativistically holding that Communism was “just another economic system” and nothing sinister: this vocal minority therefore refused to support the war in Vietnam, and no doubt partially caused Vietnam’s capture by Communists in the 1970’s.
From earliest childhood I loved History and the biographies of famous people. As a teacher I know that the word “History” instantly causes immediate attacks of ADD/ADHD and narcolepsy. As a faculty member at assorted public and parochial schools over the last 40 years, I know that my fellow History teachers are often bores, incompetent, leftist ideologues hostile to the idea of America and the Western Heritage, and/or coaches who talk more about the game (which sport is irrelevant) than about Valley Forge or the presidency of Andrew Johnson: note that I use examples from American History, since any other era is for all practical purposes irrelevant to modern American education, unless it is a grab-bag of multi-cultural factoids designed to show the terrible effects of Western Civilization on the planet.
When I taught Advanced Placement European History, I was able to survey hundreds of teachers from across the country for 20 years, and received constantly dismaying news about the quality of History teaching among their colleagues: thus my negative opinion. And too often I have heard from people in their 20’s, 30’s, or older: “I never really learned about the Constitution until I got upset about ….(enter a political stupidity from either Dems or Republicans).” The job was not done when they were in school.
Whether we believe it or not, whether we like it or not, countless events of the past are still creating consequences today, for good and for ill. Cleisthenes and the founding of the Athenian democracy, the dominance of the erroneous geography of Ptolemy over the better ideas of Eratosthenes, the assassination of Aetius by Valentinian III, Gutenberg’s invention of printing, the Battle of Lepanto, Queen Elizabeth I and the Spanish Armada, etc. etc. etc. all of these have created our modern era: the Chinese and the Aztecs and the Ethiopians all have interesting stories: but for the creation of modern times and for understanding our current situation we must look to The Western Tradition.
And so what will we do to pass along the importance of the September 11th attacks to our children and teenagers? Will we be able to explain that our attackers have a list of grievances – invalid all – going back to the 7th century? That the Crusades were not an unwarranted attack against Islam, but were seen as a defense of a Christian state (the Byzantines) under attack by Islam? That Islamic forces have invaded Europe at assorted points throughout the centuries (the 700’s through the 1600’s) to spread their religion?
Will we be able to pass along The Western Tradition to our children, not in a propagandistic fashion that eliminates the warts and tumors, but in a way which honors our heritage? Our great story encourages curiosity and the questioning of accepted wisdom, a tradition showing the courage and energy of the Common Man which stretches back to those poor average Athenians booting out a dictator supported by Spartan troops, a tradition of average people willing to stand up and die to eliminate evils like the enslavement of Africans, like Fascism and Communism, and now (once again) Islamic violence against not only our country, but against the very ideas of freedom and human rights supporting our country and civilization.
We must do this, if our great tradition is to persist into the end of this century and beyond. We cannot do this, if we do not know and understand it ourselves. And vigilance about our children and about their education in History is more necessary than ever before, especially in an era where a sitting American president wrote books and other things openly hostile to The Western Tradition and to America, and yet was elected by a partially “aliterate” and “illiterate” population and by those who agree with the propaganda that The Western Tradition represents something other than positive and exemplary aspirations.
The consequence of allowing a generation of Americans to grow up ignorant of The Western Tradition’s importance in preserving Freedom and Individual Rights will undoubtedly be the loss of those traditions, and the establishment of something much darker and brutal, a “something” wearing the smile of relativism telling our children that freedom is slavery and that ignorance is strength.