June 17, 2005

We Are Paying Quite a Price for Our Historical Ignorance

David Gelernter of Yale has written this editorial:

...Our schools teach history ideologically. They teach the message, not the truth...They are propaganda machines.

Ignorance of history destroys our judgment. Consider Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill), who just compared the Guantanamo Bay detention center to Stalin's gulag and to the death camps of Hitler and Pol Pot an astonishing, obscene piece of ignorance. Between 15 million and 30 million people died from 1918 through 1956 in the prisons and labor camps of the Soviet gulag. Historian Robert Conquest gives some facts. A prisoner at the Kholodnaya Gora prison had to stuff his ears with bread before sleeping on account of the shrieks of women being interrogated. At the Kolyma in Siberia, inmates labored through 12-hour days in cheap canvas shoes, on almost no food, in temperatures that could go to minus-58. At one camp, 1,300 of 3,000 inmates died in one year.

"Gulag" must not go the way of "Nazi" and become virtually meaningless...

...I have met college students who have never heard of Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge the genocidal monsters who treated Cambodia in the 1970s to a Marxist nightmare unequaled in its bestiality since World War II.

And I know college students who have heard of President Kennedy but not of anything he ever did except get assassinated. They have never heard JFK's inaugural promise: that America would "pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to ensure the survival and the success of liberty." But President Bush remembers that speech, and it's lucky he does.

To forget your own history is (literally) to forget your identity. By teaching ideology instead of facts, our schools are erasing the nation's collective memory...

There is an ongoing culture war between Americans who are ashamed of this nation's history and those who acknowledge with sorrow its many sins and are fiercely proud of it anyway. Proud of the 17th century settlers who threw their entire lives overboard and set sail for religious freedom in their rickety little ships. Proud of the new nation that taught democracy to the world. Proud of its ferocious fight to free the slaves, save the Union and drag (lug, shove, sweat, bleed) America a few inches closer to its own sublime ideals. Proud of its victories in two world wars and the Cold War, proud of the fight it is waging this very day for freedom in Iraq and the whole Middle East.

If you are proud of this country and don't want its identity to vanish, you must teach U.S. history to your children. They won't learn it in school. This nation's memory will go blank unless you act.

With those insights in mind, it is astounding that a United States Senator would say what Senator Durbin has said.

Some reactions to Senator Durbin's comments are here and here. Plus these comments from the Chicago Tribune, in his own home state. Hugh Hewitt has more. Power Line also has more here and here. The latter references a Hugh Hewitt article which provides readers with exactly what Senator Durbin said. The editors at National Review add their comments.

Since Durbin's comments relate to the Amnesty International debacle, there are two related links here and here to postings on AI's actions.

Senator Durbin apologizes, well sort of. Here is actual transcript of what he said.