World War II and Historical MyopiaPosted on September 7th, 2009 2 comments
Commenting on the 70th anniversary of the start of World War II, Lexington Green at Chicago Boyz complains about the prevalence of historical distortion and revision:
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.
That pretty much agrees with my observations. Historical awareness, to the extent that it exists at all, is at the level of a superficial morality play. It brings to mind a comment John Stuart Mill made in his essay “On Liberty,” regarding what has now become the ruling paradigm in education:
That the whole or any large part of the education of the people should be in State hands, I go as far as any one in deprecating. All that has been said of the importance of individuality of character, and diversity in opinions and modes of conduct, involves, as of the same unspeakable importance, diversity of education. A general State education is a mere contrivance for moulding people to be exactly like one another: and as the mould in which it casts them is that which pleases the predominant power in the government, whether this be a monarch, a priesthood, an aristocracy, or the majority of the existing generation in proportion as it is efficient and successful, it establishes a despotism over the mind, leading by natural tendency to one over the body. An education established and controlled by the State should only exist, if it exist at all, as one among many competing experiments, carried on for the purpose of example and stimulus, to keep the others up to a certain standard of excellence.
Well, we did not take Mill’s advice, and now we have in practice what he inveighed against in theory. Green gives us his take on the result:
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.
I concur. The best advice I can think of for anyone who really wants to approach historical truth is, go back to the source material.
After we moved to America my wife starting going to college full time, mostly for fun (and maybe something good will come out of it too). Anyway, she was and still is shocked by the general lack of historical knowledge and context of the students. From what she related to me it is truly shocking.
The other big characteristic of the student body in America is what Victor D. Hanson complained about many times, the fragility of the ego, the inverse relationship between size of ego and level of knowledge. This is not an isolated phenomenon, it’s a widespread attitude.
I can only wonder what the (American) future will look like. I am aware that probably from the beginning of time older generations complained about the younger ones. However, the level of self-centered behavior combined with the lack of interest in anything else outside the “me” sphere has reached, without any exaggeration historic heights in today’s young generation. The negativity and nihilism taught in schools are finally coming to fruition.
I believe the world is governed by exact laws, and amongst them Newton’s third law of action and reaction is fundamental. “Something” will eventually fill the societal vacuum. I’m not predicting that this “something” will be a world war, or an Apocalypse, or anything of that magnitude. It could be, but not necessarily. It could be “only” a never ending economic crisis, which will shake the fundamentals of society to the core. I’m sure that one of my wife’s colleagues would say to all this doom talk “what, a crisis because I’m too much into my iPod?”. I would say “a crisis because you are not aware of the world outside your iPod”.
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