Don’t know much about history

By Christopher Harper

After I assigned two readings about the end of World War II, I received a question from one student: Why did the United States want to invade Japan?

The readings included John Hersey’s Hiroshima and Paul Fussell’s Thank God for the Atom Bomb!

The latter recounts how Fussell was part of the army ready to invade Japan. Estimates of allied casualties stood at roughly one million before the atomic bombs were used.

I explained to the student the history of Japanese involvement in the war and how Japan refused to surrender in the closing days of World War II.

I couldn’t really fault the student because his public school teachers have turned courses on American history into a social justice warrior screed about the nation’s misdeeds.

Now these failures in public education have created massive misunderstanding of the history of this country and some of its key leaders.

Take, for example, the recent desecration of the statues of Frederick Douglass and Ulysses S. Grant.

If anyone represented the values of Black Americans, Douglass did.

Douglass, who was born into slavery in Maryland in 1818, escaped and became the leading abolitionist in his day. In 1847, Douglass started The North Star, an abolitionist newspaper in Rochester, New York.

In Rochester, in 1852, Douglass delivered an address that eventually became known as “What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July?” One biographer called it “perhaps the greatest antislavery oration ever given.”

It was on the anniversary of this speech that protesters toppled his statue in Rochester, a gross lack of understanding of Douglass’s role in Black Americans’ struggle.

A few days later, rioters in San Francisco defaced and damaged a statue of Grant, a committed abolitionist. 

Author Ron Chernow has recently written an excellent account of Grant’s role in fighting for abolitionist causes. The History Channel recently turned Chernow’s book into a three-part series for television.

As a general, Grant defeated the Confederacy and insisted that the opposing army treat Black soldiers the same as whites. As president, Grant fought the Ku Klux Klan and endorsed Black voting rights.

His sin, according to the protestors? He kept one of his wife’s family slaves as an aide for a year before giving him freedom. 

All of the recent acts to cancel the culture of the United States reminded of Spanish philosopher George Santayana’s famous warning: “Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

I would add that those who do not know history—as well as those who failed to teach history properly—should also be condemned.

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